The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education (APPG) has this week published an inquiry-based paper entitled, ‘How well do schools prepare children for their future?’ This inquiry and resultant paper has been drawn up as a response to the latest stark figures which reveal that youth unemployment currently stands at 13.1% (national average = 4.8%). This becomes even more of a concern when placed alongside the UKCES 2015 Employer Skills Survey which reported that 1 in 4 vacancies are not being filled because businesses can find, or access the right people.
In order to begin dissecting and understanding this problem, the APPG inquiry sought written evidence to a number of questions, including:
- What should our schools be focusing on in order to prepare young people for the future?
- Do education providers have the resources to prepare young people for the workforce?
- What is the quality and effectiveness of current careers advice and guidance?
- How wide is the STEM skills gap?
The APPG hope to actively engage with the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in order to inform the Government of their findings.
The findings of the inquiry are very interesting, and what is very clear is how CASCAID’s careers guidance platforms can help schools/colleges and individuals to overcome these challenges.
So what did the inquiry find?
Science, technology, engineering and maths subjects are still failing to meet the skills requirements of the various associated industries. For instance, 43% of digital technology companies have reported that their growth is being limited by skills shortages – and this is representative of the STEM sectors as a whole.
Why are so many young people leaving education unqualified to work in STEM fields?
The inquiry found that attitudes towards STEM subject paths are still a significant barrier for many. STEM subjects are looked upon as being difficult and not for the less academically able student. Therefore many students immediately rule them out.
However, there appears to be a perceptual dichotomy regarding STEM, and this is highlighted by the fact that many STEM careers, such as engineering, are perceived as manual or of low status, which leads to many high-performing students looking elsewhere.
So, the subjects are perceived as too difficult, whilst the associated careers, low status. It appears STEM can’t win!
STEM subjects and careers are also still viewed as being male – despite a great deal of work and effort from various organisations over the last few years to bring about change. Male students are still FOUR times more likely to study Physics at A level than females, and women currently make up around one fifth of the UKs STEM workforce. This has to change, and access to relevant, accurate and impartial careers information from a relevant age is crucial.
Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG)
The inquiry describes CEIAG as ‘the link between schools and the world of work’, and it can’t be emphasised strongly enough, just how important this link is.
However, the inquiry has found that many schools describe their CEIAG service as ‘patchy’, with many laying the blame on the confusing agenda and statutory duty – school staff aren’t sure exactly what they are supposed to be providing.
The 2011 Education Act made it a statutory duty for all local authority maintained schools to provide secure access to independent careers advice.
Despite this legislation, careers advice and guidance is being neglected, and this is directly affecting young people. A survey carried out on behalf of AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk found that almost a third (31.2%) of schools leavers report that they do not know what they want to do after leaving school or college. In addition 78.5% of young people say that their parents are their main source of careers advice.
One of the most worrying findings of the inquiry is that young people from lower social capital backgrounds are least likely to benefit from careers advice – and this is the social grouping who stand to benefit the most from such advice.
Non-academic routes into work also remain largely hidden to a majority of students, despite the government highlighting them as being a crucial instrument of social mobility. Non-academic qualifications offer a fantastic route into employment and should be placed on an equal footing with the more traditional academic pathways. Here at CASCAID we have been very proactive in promoting vocational subjects, such as City & Guilds, BTECs, and Cambridge Technicals etc. Our careers information features information on relevant vocational and academic subjects – with equal emphasis. We realise the importance of providing this balanced information. It is vital that students get access to quality careers information so that they are made aware of and fully understand the different pathways that are available to them.
However, the government backed EBacc seems to send a clear message that vocational qualifications are not placed on the same footing as academic subjects – and this was highlighted by the recent removal of Design & Technology from the EBacc.
The inquiry made a number of interesting recommendations aimed at tackling the problems identified above.
- Additional funding for schools is desperately needed – funding targeted for CEIAG should be allocated
- Mandatory work experience should be reinstated
- Secondary schools should have a clear structure for careers provision
- Careers and advice should always be provided by a qualified, independent and impartial counsellor
- Children with SEND should receive more careers based provision
- The government should decide what ‘good’ careers education looks like for children with SEND, and train guidance counsellors accordingly.
The inquiry’s findings make great reading for all of us involved in CEIAG. Of course words are easy – what we really need is action. Let’s hope the government listens to the advice given here, and we can begin to move forward. The potential benefits for individuals, families and the larger economy are immeasurable.