MPs attack rise of ‘ill-equipped’ careers advisers in schools

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan refused to agree that schools offering poor advice should be sanctioned

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The Independent Online

Schools are being forced to train their receptionists and teaching assistants to act as careers advisers because of a dearth of qualified staff, MPs have been told.

The evidence emerged as the influential Commons Education Select Committee gave the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, a two-hour grilling on what they claimed were the “inadequacies” of the careers service in schools.

Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton South, said public service union Unison had undertaken research which showed that 83 per cent of schools no longer employed professional careers advisers or teachers. The role, he added, had been “picked up by people including, in many cases, teaching assistants and other support staff who are totally ill-equipped”.

Graham Stuart, the committee’s Conservative chairman, said he had received evidence that one of the new University Technical Colleges – which specialise in vocational education for 14- to 19-year-olds – was training its receptionist to be their careers adviser “while running the reception”.

“That’s because you’re not mandating any standards whatsoever, that’s the standard that’s being delivered,” he told Ms Morgan.

MPs on the committee have been concerned about the quality of the service since former Education Secretary Michael Gove announced he was transferring responsibility for providing careers advice to schools from the Connexions careers service four years ago – without earmarking extra cash. Since then, education standards watchdog Ofsted has claimed that 80 per cent of schools are offering an inadequate service.

“I think a lot of people recognise that you’ve been left with a bit of a pig’s ear with this policy,” Craig Whittaker, the Conservative MP for Calder Valley, told Ms Morgan.

The Education Secretary faced just as tough a grilling from Tory members of the committee as Labour MPs despite Westminster’s election fever. Mr Stuart said: “There is something fundamentally not right about the current [careers] settlement.”

Ms Morgan refused to back the idea of sanctions against schools offering poor advice – or agree that they should fail their Ofsted inspection. She said the Government was setting up an independent careers company to liaise with schools and offer advice over how to deliver the service.

Mr Stuart replied: “There is not the incentive to provide a good service.” He argued that schools have to get rid of weak teachers otherwise headteachers lose their jobs as a result of a poor showing in exam league tables, but “they don’t lose their jobs if pupils end up as Neets [not in employment, education or training].”

Ms Morgan refused to back a call for schools to be forced to employ professional career-advice staff, saying: “I’m not going to mandate, no, but I think it’s up to schools who will commission and who will have people in and I disagree with you in saying that people are utterly ill-equipped in schools.”