A report by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) said one in four schools failed to provide well-planned careers education and condemned as "unacceptable" the wide variations in the quality of advice. It said only a third of careers teachers had a recognised qualification, and half did not have an adequate knowledge of careers education.
Careers information was unsatisfactory in a quarter of school libraries, and one in 10 had no dedicated careers library, the report said. Staff in a quarter of schools with sixth forms failed to give impartial information about local colleges and pressured students to stay on at school.
Inspectors called for national standards for careers advice and said schools needed to improve the way careers education was planned. "There is considerable scope for improvement," the report said.
But inspectors praised the one-to-one work done by teachers; 90 per cent of the careers interviews seen by inspectors were satisfactory or better.
David West, the head of post- compulsory education at Ofsted, said: "This study confirms that there is a lot of good work going on in schools, but the variation between the best and worst is too wide and there is much room for improvement in the co-ordination between the education and the guidance elements of careers work."
Ministers said they were working on a national qualification for careers teachers and a new curriculum. The Government has set targets for cutting youth unemployment and raising the proportion of young people in education or training.