FROM CAREER GUIDANCE TODAY: AN INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Lifelong Guidance: Making Progress?

Following the European Council's resolution on Lifelong Guidance in 2004, John McCarthy asks whether EU nations are making progress

IN THIS AGE OF 24-HOUR NEWS availability, Council resolutions are very much in the spotlight, particularly UN Council resolutions. As with many things, these tend to become newsworthy when countries find agreement difficult.

In the field of education and training, EU ministers adopt resolutions, conclusions or communiqués at least twice a year (during each six-month EU presidency), and they are usually sponsored by that presidency. In May 2004 the ministers for Education/Youth adopted a resolution on Strengthening Policies, Systems and Practices for Guidance throughout Life, proposed by the Irish presidency, and I will try to review its progress based on my own knowledge and observations.

European co-operation in the fields of education, training and employment

Education, training and employment policies are national responsibilities. However, these fields are also a common interest and concern across European countries to give meaning and expression to the concept of European citizenship through the creation of a European space for education, training and work.

These areas have significant potential to contribute to making Europe the most socially inclusive and competitive knowledge-based economy and society in the world by 2010. This is a common public policy target set by EU heads of government in Lisbon in 2000, and one that affects you all. Such a target provided a stimulus for increased EU co-operation in those fields, particularly at policy and systems levels.

They required a mechanism for countries to work together towards those goals and so the Education and Training 2010 Work Programme was introduced in 2001 involving ministries, social partners and civil society. One can view EU co-operation in the fields of education and training as occurring at three levels:

Level 1: Council of Ministers' resolutions, conclusions and communiqués

Level 2: Joint work programmes e.g. Education and Training 2010

Level 3: Pilot projects, exchanges and placements, study visits and studies/surveys, usually part funded by EU programmes such as Leonardo and Socrates.

Level 1 gives political direction, Level 2 consists of an agreed programme of activities aimed at making Level 1 decisions operational and Level 3 are practitioner, researcher and manager level activities that may or may not be related to Levels 1 and 2, though ideally contribute to them.

The council (Education and Youth) resolution on guidance throughout life 2004

All Council resolutions begin by giving background and context. The guidance resolution (as it will be referred to in the remainder of this article) opens with a definition of guidance. It goes on to describe the functions that guidance provision fulfils for individuals and institutions, the public policy goals that it contributes to and previous, related resolutions and directives in education, training and employment. The second section gives the rationale for the resolution noting, among other things, the findings of the policy reviews for career guidance undertaken in Europe by the OECD, CEDEFOP and ETF on behalf of the European Commission (EC) and by the World Bank. It particularly notes the ways in which existing guidance services are conceptualised and provided, that they do not meet the demands of the knowledge-based economy and society and, as a result, need reform. The third section of the resolution stresses the changes required to address such reform needs. The fourth section prioritises actions by member states and the EC within their respective competencies with an invitation to undertake/implement such actions.

Priority Actions

The following were deemed to be priority actions by the member states and the Commission, within their respective competencies:

* Support international institutional co-operation in the field

* Re-conceptualise guidance provision, including building citizens' ability to manage their learning and work

* Develop quality assurance mechanisms for guidance provision, particularly from a citizen/user perspective

* Reform initial and continuing training for guidance practitioners

* Involve stakeholders (e.g. ministries, social partners, NGOs, practitioners, civil society) in policy and systems development

* Ensure co-operation and co-ordination between services at national, regional and local levels

* Ensure gender equality is a feature of all policies and practices for guidance

* Ensure maximum return in terms of impact on policies, systems and practices at EU and national levels from the results of collaborative activities in guidance undertaken with the support of EU programmes for education and training and with ESF support

* Review national guidance provision in the context of the findings of the EC, OECD and World Bank

* Make improvements on the information base for policy-making through international collaboration

* Review progress in the implementation of the resolution as part of the ongoing reviews of the Education and Training 2010 work programme

* Build on and adapt existing European structures for co-operation to support the implementation of the priorities.

What has been achieved to date in implementing the priority actions?

At national level the answer to this question depends on the stage of development of guidance policy, systems and provision in a particular country. There is huge diversity between and within the 25 countries that comprise the EU, so UK readers beware! Issues such as quality assurance have been on the UK agenda for quite some time with the development of the Guidance Council Quality Standards, followed subsequently by the MATRIX standards.

Across the North Sea, a national forum of stakeholders (recently revised) to advise on policy and systems development has been in existence since 1981 in Denmark. Such a national forum has yet to emerge in the UK; on the other hand quality assurance has only now emerged as an important issue in Denmark.

I am prefacing this section with those examples so that readers are aware that what may appear to be a big step in one member state may not be deemed as such in another. Just as starting points differ across member states, so do differences between them in attaching importance to the priority actions of the resolution.

For ICG members, these priority actions are included with this copy of Career Guidance Today; other guidance professionals can request them from simon@icg-uk.org. These comments are based on the author's knowledge and observations; a scientific survey of member states' actions on some of the priorities is being undertaken by Finland with support from CEDEFOP in preparation for the Finnish EU presidency conference on guidance next November.

Conclusions

The Council resolution on lifelong guidance is just two years old. That is a very short lifespan - what can one expect, for example, of a two-year-old child? Policy development at EU level is a very fragile process. It requires the interest and voluntary co-operation of the member states, the European Commission and other key actors from EU social partners to EU civil society.

What is decided at EU level must have resonance with national priorities and stages of development; it takes an even longer timeframe to implement at national level than any national level agreements. There is no stable mechanism in existence at EU level to support national level implementation, not to mention how to monitor progress in implementation. It is very much a question of good will, cooperation and voluntary participation.

Over the past number of years, significant progress has been made in developing common EU reference tools for different dimensions of education and training. Creating awareness of and applying them at national level remains a big challenge. The European Commission and its agencies - CEDEFOP and ETF - have continued to stress the importance of guidance for the implementation of lifelong learning policies through various mechanisms available to them.

There are successes to date in the implementation of certain priorities of the resolution; these include national forums and being directly related to a stimulus provided by an EU programme, such as the Joint Actions programme of 2004. Such success also requires enlightened civil servants and policy makers at national and EU levels who see the bigger picture, have a long-term view, and are willing to take and support action, as is currently the case in Denmark, Ireland and the European Commission.

Progress in implementing the Council resolution on the Lifelong Guidance of 2004 has certainly occurred and is indeed still happening, even if its spread appears somewhat uneven. The resolution has mapped out the road ahead within the framework of the EU Education and Training 2010 work programme. The challenge at national level is to unpack its contents from this box and repack them in a national box. The resolution's messages are valid for all countries, EU and non-EU, regardless of packaging!

Further Information

To read more about the EU resolution go to www.ec.europa.eu/education/index_en.html and www.ec.europa.eu/education/policies/2010/et_2010_en.html

ICG members will receive an insert detailing the priority actions discussed in this article with their copy of CGT; other guidance professionals can request them from simon@icg-uk.org

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