John Brennan: Why is the Connexions service not working?

The transition to adulthood is difficult for many young people, which is why the Government established the Connexions service to provide tailored advice to all 13- to 19-year-olds. Through a website and local advisers, it promises universal help for young people to find the right courses, plan for careers, use money wisely and deal with teenage relationship and family troubles. In theory, it was a good idea because traditional careers advice for all would be supplemented by extra support for those young people who were at risk of dropping out of education. But in practice it doesn't seem to be working.

The transition to adulthood is difficult for many young people, which is why the Government established the Connexions service to provide tailored advice to all 13- to 19-year-olds. Through a website and local advisers, it promises universal help for young people to find the right courses, plan for careers, use money wisely and deal with teenage relationship and family troubles. In theory, it was a good idea because traditional careers advice for all would be supplemented by extra support for those young people who were at risk of dropping out of education. But in practice it doesn't seem to be working.

An Association of Colleges survey has found that half of young people in colleges get no advice from Connexions, and most of those who do get help receive an hour or less each year. Worryingly, 41 per cent of respondents thought that access to Connexions for most students had fallen since 2002. What seems to have happened is that the needs of those most at risk are so great that they overwhelm the advisers dealing with them, so much so that their responsibility for wider careers advice and guidance is dissipating.

This should be no surprise. After all, the Department for Education and Skills makes clear in its annual report that, "Connexions' overarching objective is to reduce the proportion of 16- to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training." That is where the bulk of the £472m budget is inevitably being spent.

Nobody, least of all colleges, underestimates the importance of that objective. Our staying-on rates are among the worst in the developed world. But the result is that colleges typically need to supplement the work of Connexions by £37,500 a year, with some spending £100,000 more on extra advice. And, more importantly, many young people simply don't get the advice they need when they are deciding on their futures. They don't have the time to discuss apprenticeships, college, work options or university courses.

At 16, this is a particular problem because of school and college funding. Since money follows the student, schools have a strong vested interest in retaining pupils in the sixth form, even when they might be better going to college or starting an apprenticeship.

Most heads and teachers strive to provide fair advice. But a bias inevitably creeps in. Moreover, too many 11-18 schools don't invite local colleges to tell their students about the alternatives available - something that reduces their post-GCSE choices.

All this should be the job of Connexions advisers. But most young people must turn to Connexions Direct, a website that offers them the chance to text or e-mail advisers, or have them call back. This is an undoubtedly valuable additional service, but it is no substitute for direct one-to-one meetings. It is not the "universal" service we were promised.

As John Tredwell, the Principal of Worcester Sixth Form College and a member of the Hereford and Worcester Connexions board, says: "Information presented online is not the same as a professional guidance adviser exploring the motives and ideas of a student. You might as well ask why students come to school when they can just stay at home and read books."

Good advice can save money, by reducing drop-out rates and ensuring that students start on the right courses in the first place. That's something that Gordon Brown and Charles Clarke should think about as they put the finishing touches to their plans for spending and education over the years ahead. After all, every young person needs the right Connexions.

The author is the chief executive of the Association of Colleges

Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SEN IT Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: IT EBD Teacher job in Runco...

SEN Maths Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Maths EBD Teacher job in Run...

SEN Maths Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Maths EBD Teacher job in Run...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teachers required, vario...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn