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

Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

First Class Graduate (Computer Science, Economics, Finance)

£23000 per annum: Harrington Starr: First Class Graduate (Computer Science, Ec...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?