What the potential new Conservative leaders could mean for career guidance

Readers of this blog may have noticed that the UK is currently in the grip of an unseemly scrabble for the job of Prime Minister. We started with at least 11 Conservative MPs declaring themselves as potential national saviours, but at the time of writing we are down to six.

So far there has (perhaps unsurprisingly) been little discussion of career guidance in the speeches and debates of candidates. I’m sure that this will change once the contest moves away from empty rhetoric, grandstanding and gross attacks on minorities. But just in case serious policy discussion doesn’t break out soon, I thought that I might make a quick summary of what we know about the different candidates opinions on career guidance and related areas.

Of course none of us actually get a vote in this (unless you are a member of the Conservative Party), but it seems worth giving them some scrutiny even so.

First up is Rishi Sunak, who is currently leading the pack. Sunak famously announced that…

The evidence says careers advice works, so we’ll fund it, with an additional £32 million to recruit careers advisers and provide bespoke advice and careers guidance for over a quarter of a million more people.

Rishi Sunak

But, his Plan for Jobs actually delivered very little career guidance. So while he is in theory a supporter of the field, in reality his support is pretty thin. Perhaps more worryingly he is a straight down the line Conservative with an enthusiasm for austerity. If he takes charge the key question will be whether we can expect trimming or slashing of public services. If we do move into a neo-austerity environment, the outlook for career guidance is unlikely to be good.

After Rishi the next most likely candidate to win is Penny Mordaunt. Penny has been doing some fairly unpleasant jettisoning of her more liberal views in order to appeal to the Conservative party base. The folks at Novara have had some fun with her ludicrous leadership launch video, but in truth we don’t know much of what she really stands for. Most of her leadership platform is essentially platitudes. But back in 2019 she launched some funding for careers work in primary schools with a strong social justice rationale. So she isn’t a complete stranger to our world.

At one time Liz Truss would have been a frontrunner, but her star appears to have waned once people got sick of her penchants for selfies in which she variously tries to look presidential, wears silly hats or cosplays as Thatcher. Nonetheless she remain a contender in the contest. She is supposedly one of the more right wing candidates, but in reality her positions are all over the place. If she wins expect some headline grabbing tax cuts and then probably more of the same sort of stuff that we’ve seen over the last few years.

She hasn’t said a lot about career guidance, but I did find an intervention into a debate in 2011 while the then Conservative government were slashing and burning the existing careers system. At the time she said

 I fear that much more damage has been done by the dilution of maths, sciences and languages in our schools than by poor careers advice, and yet we have yet another Opposition day debate on education that does not address the core issue. We are not talking about what students actually learn in school…. I do not think that we need a lot of expensive careers advisers…. We will not create careers with more hot air [by which I think that she mean career guidance] ; we will create careers through real learning in real subjects and real jobs.

Liz Truss

Whether this is still what she believes is not clear. But, it is fairly damning stuff and any Conservative Party members who are also careers advisers should take heed.

Probably the last feasible winner is Kemi Badenoch. While Badenoch would be a very surprising winner her brand of energetic culture war does seem to have excited quite a few people on the Tory right. Up until now I’ve mainly known about her due to her paranoia about left wing universities preaching Marxism and wokery. Clothed in a concern for freedom of speech this position ironically led her down the aisle of arguing for the limiting of academics freedom of speech.

Beyond the culture warrior stuff, she is keen on low tax and neo-austerity which is unlikely to be particularly positive for anyone delivering public services.

Surprisingly she has said a few things about career guidance, but mainly just parroting the government line while she was in the Department of Education. Nonetheless, in 2019 she said the following, which we will hopefully have the opportunity to reminder her of at some point.

We expect all schools to work towards meeting the 8 Gatsby Career Benchmarks by the end of 2020. The Gatsby Benchmark on personal guidance advises that all young people should have a careers interview by the age of 16, and the opportunity for one further such interview by age 18.

Kemi Badenoch

Finally we have the no hopers in Tom Tugendhat and Suella Braverman who respectively represent fantasists on the left and the right of the Conservative Party. Tom is all about a fresh start and duty to his country, Suella is all about tax cuts, self-reliance and all of that. Neither of them ever seem to have said anything about career guidance that I can find.

All in all a highly attractive bunch. Basically if it is Sunak or Mordaunt there might be a chance of making some argument on career guidance, but, particularly with Sunak, this will be in the context of neo-austerity. Badenoch has said things about career guidance, but it is fairly standard junior minister defending the government’s position stuff. It may or may not represent her actual beliefs. On the other hand Truss seemed to really warm up to the Govean line of bashing careers advisers, so watch out.

As I’m not allowed to vote for the next Prime Minister it isn’t much of a threat to say that none of them have my vote. But, what the hell. I will surprise you all by saying that if I could vote in this election, I probably wouldn’t.

What about you?



  1. I am still waiting for the all-powerful shadowy careers lobby to assert itself personally…(copyright Mr Gove) hwww.theguardian.com/careers/michael-gove-schools-career-guidance

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