???I still think some sort of workable service that is suitable for purpose can be salvaged???

I put out a call for people to send me stuff about what was happening in relation to the cuts to Connexions services. I received a guest post from Russell George from Stopsley High School. I’d really like it if other people could send me similar stuff or post short posts in response to this article or others like it.

I’m a non teaching member of staff who looks after the school’s Gifted and Talented program, Aimhigher program and (as part of a team) our Careers and Work Related Learning provision. Because of my responsibilities in school I have seen the cycle that is currently happening in the secondary careers sector happen across all of my work. The retraction of Local Authority support, the expectation on schools to do more with less, a slow movement of schools into supportive consortia based around academy sponsors or locality and like minded Heads and ultimately, the need for the staff that are left to continue to politic and persuade so that their focuses are not forgotten and they are given the appropriate support they need.

In Luton, the Local Authority has retained a small number of Connexions PA’s on reduced hours. They sent a document to schools with costs for retaining full time PA’s but each school didn’t have the budget for the costs and we could not find a clear answer on what we would get for our money so, with the exception of two academies, no one bought the proposed service. They have both brought a PA for 2 days a week and have carte blanch on how they ask that PA to work (targeted support, group work, etc – it’s up to them). The rest of us (non-academy schools) have been left with a PA with 15 hours a week in each school and a long list of criteria that students must fulfill for them to be able to be referred to the PA. This service will be targeted at the most vulnerable such as Looked After Children, Free School Meals and Special Educational Needs (including students with behavioural or emotional needs) pupils. That leaves a lot of students without any support.

The Authority also previously employed an Adviser for schools for our Careers curriculum. Now that this is no longer statutory but the need to find independent advice is, the Authority has retained his role but altered it slightly to monitor how we fulfil this new requirement. Working with him and my Head I hope to encourage a new set up in the town where myself, and a few others, from the non-academy schools are trained to the required standard and “lent” around the town for some days a week to try and sustain something approaching a universal service. There will be many issues to sort out: all Heads need to agree and sign up to it; a suitable number of staff would need to be found who are both willing and able to incorporate the new work alongside what ever responsibilities they already have in their own school etc etc. In short, there’s a long way to go before we get a plan and get it working for everyone.

It’s a strange landscape out there at the moment as every school or group of schools is reacting to A LOT of change and this (careers/Connexions) is just another thing that has to be incorporated into new working alliances. We’ve just had the most disrupted KS4 option period I’ve ever known as we’ve had to deal with late cuts to some vocational courses, the complete loss of Young Apprenticeships whilst picking a path through the implications of the English Baccalaureate introduction. This meant a lot of students made unsatisfactory or chaotic choices. But there is hope. Heads now have more leeway to focus their (admittedly) meagre resources on whatever areas they see fit. No longer do we have to take the sole provider of a service and work with them. We can design a service, shout and persuade to its benefits and hope that we create enough of a snowball and enough Heads agree to make it worthwhile. It needs to be done quickly sure (the academic calendar keeps on ticking and a whole year group of students shouldn’t be let down) but I still think some sort of workable service that is suitable for purpose can be salvaged.

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Guest post: The future of school based careers work???

The author of this post worked for the Connexions Service in the North West of England from January 2005 until November 2009 when he/she left the service to take up a position as a Careers Adviser within the higher education sector.

I worked as a Connexions Personal Adviser for around five years providing careers advice and guidance to young people in schools.  When I started I had responsibility for one large secondary school (almost 2000 pupils) and had 3.5 days based in school delivering a mix of groupwork and one to one guidance.  I took the job because during my training I’d done a couple of placements with Connexions and had been struck by the dedication and positive attitudes of the staff and I got to see first hand the very real difference these professionals can make to the lives of young people.  It was a concept I really believed in.

 

School careers work can be a tough and lonely experience; when I started I had to work hard to build up my profile, not just with pupils but also amongst staff, many of whom saw me as an outsider.  Even though I wasn’t employed by the school I still found myself being put under pressure by school staff to encourage year 11 pupils to continue into the sixth form, even if this wasn’t the most appropriate option for them.  It takes a strong person to be able to resist this pressure, which for me occurred almost on a daily basis. 

 

In this school and others where I worked, Year 11 and sixth form leavers going into employment/apprenticeships were seen as a priority for Connexions and I often didn’t deal with those staying on for sixth form or going to university as the schools felt they dealt with these pupils pretty well themselves.  But do they?  Only a few days ago there was an article in The Guardian by Andy Gardner of the ICG, on why he felt the need to write a book on A level subject choices, as it seems that young people are not getting the right kind of advice about this.  I think currently there’s an assumption among some school based staff and managers within Connexions (certainly where I worked) that young people going to sixth form or university don’t need careers advice; that they will “work things out for themselves”.  Andy’s article makes clear that this isn’t the case and the new all age guidance service will need to address this issue to ensure that guidance is available for all young people.

 

During my time with Connexions one of the local schools went through an Ofsted inspection in which pupils and parents were critical of careers support provided by the school.  I was asked to get involved in looking at how to address this and I ran some focus groups with pupils.  The results were interesting; many of the pupils wanted advice from someone impartial about things like A level choices and higher education but didn’t think Connexions was the best place to get this.  Many did not even consider that Connexions could offer this kind of help.  Several highlighted the fact that the Connexions Centre appeared to be like a youth club and didn’t stock the kind of information resources they needed. 

 

When Connexions was first set up, the publicity seemed to suggest it was going to change the world.  Here was a new concept in youth support where young people could find all the support they need under one roof with a team of dedicated professionals to help.  Unfortunately it was never given adequate resources to see this through, the result of which meant that for many young people, the service was seen as one only there to support young people with “problems” or in crisis.

 

Over the five years I worked for the service I saw resources stripped back and budgets cut.  By the end of this time with the service I was not only responsible for one school; I was responsible for four separate institutions and my time allocation in the largest school had been cut to just one day a week.  The result of this was my work became reactive rather than proactive and my job was one of “fire fighting”; dealing with young people in crisis.  It was no wonder that pupils perceived the service as only there to support young people with problems; that’s exactly what my job had become.

 

It seems clear that the current government is committed to providing an all age career guidance service after April 2012 but what is less clear is if there will be adequate funding to allow professionals to deliver a high quality service.  There will also need to be some careful thought and planning on how the service is publicised and promoted in a way that is appealing to young people.  “Guidance” is a nebulous term and for many young people (and indeed other users), fairly meaningless and the term “career” might also be seen as irrelevant for young people who are focussed on “getting a job”.  Some research undertaken by the National Youth Agency highlighted that young people prefer to get advice and guidance from adults that they know well and have built up a relationship of trust with.  This poses a challenge in terms of ensuring that careers professionals in schools are given the time and resources to build up those relationships.

 

Careers professionals in schools also need to be properly supported in order to do their jobs well; it’s no easy gig.  Access to good quality information resources to support the guidance process, support from management to challenge schools when they come under pressure over im
partiality (and they will) and adequate time for CPD activities such as employer events and networking are essential.  Sadly, given the current state of affairs regarding funding I think this might just wishful thinking on my part; I hope I am wrong.

 

 

Guest post: The complete mess that is happening to the Connexions Service….

This post comes from from someone who works as a Connexions PA. I agreed to post it up here because I think that it is important that the message gets out about how people who work at Connexions are feeling at the moment. I don’t necessarily endorse everything that is said, but I am worried about the future of the Careers Sector in the UK if Connexions is closed down without a serious plan in place.

I chose to become a Connexions PA to help young people to get into their dream jobs , however like many, if not all, of the Connexions PA’s up and down the country, I am faced with great uncertainty over the security of my own job beyond the end of March. As I write this, we do not know in our local area, what service will be left and who, if any of us, will still have a job.  It feels as though information is trickling out of central government as to what their plans are for the all age guidance service and there seems to be no real clarity over what the service will actually look like or what role they see for existing Connexions staff within it! On one hand, they suggest they feel the Connexions Service contains lots of excellent practitioners, yet on the other no suggestions have been made as to how staff would tupe to the new service. Indeed, nobody is yet to know how much money will fund the new service or how exactly it will be run.  

As an education based adviser, I am the only careers adviser working in my school, so this raises the question, what happens if I go? A question I don’t know the answer to. Yes, government have made it statute that schools must provide independent guidance but what about the academies? They are not included. Additionally, how is this to be funded? Even if schools do need to buy in services, what service is there for there for them to buy in at the present moment if the Local Authorities have cut their Connexions Services? It’s just one unanswered question after another. The situation I am now faced with is to try to compress 6 months work into the two that I know I am working and basically hope for the best that none of my client change their minds or need any further advice in the time between Connexions and the new service being set up. The odds of this are slim considering we are in a recession and are likely to have a high number of young people missing out on university places as students scramble for places before the new fees system commences.  The best case scenario my colleagues and I can see in our local area is that some form of Connexions  Service remains until next April, but even if this happens, suggestions are that it would be greatly reduced and therefore the service provided to our young people will be significantly reduced. Ironically, considering the government’s desire for an all age service that is not so focused on a small minority, as they believe Connexions is, this will actually be what they create for the next 12 months. Already my colleagues and I have been told to focus on high priority young people as we may not have the time to see anyone else. I have already tried to ensure I provide a universal service tailored to the specific needs of my clients but I now may simply not be time to continue with this, so it is a case of now working with those with the greatest needs only.

At a time when our young people need advice more than ever, I am deeply saddened by the way our government is treating the Connexions Service, along with so many other services for young people.  As a hard working public sector worker, I feel demoralised by the way we are being treated and left unsure over the future of our service.   

 

 

 

 

Concerns about funding for careers services

I’m a member of the UK Careers Sector Strategic Forum. As a group we’ve just issued the attached statement which sets out some of our concerns about current proposals to restructure careers services in England. I think that it is well put and I’ll try and post something here as soon as we hear something from the Government.

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Be careful what you don???t wish for

Like everyone else in the pubic sector I’m scared. Things are tight, the cuts are coming, jobs will be lost, pensions will be cut, an enormous hell beast will be summoned by George Osbourne to come forth from the ground and gobble up unsuspecting civil servants at will. In short, things are bad! We’ve all bought into this idea on some level.

 

What worries me however is that most of this changing context is still rhetorical (at least at the moment). While there are some people who have lost their jobs already, for most of us it is a sense of impending dread about what might happen. I’ve already started to try and plan for the worst and have got involved in discussion in both HE and the careers sector about how we can best weather the storm. This is not to say that I don’t believe that bad things are likely to happen to the public sector, but I am starting to worry that this is being presented as an inevitable force that we have no control over.

 

I wanted to suggest some possibilities and ask people to think about how they would behave differently if any of these were true.

 

  1. What if the government are just talking up the public spending cuts to make it easier for them to sell much less severe cuts as if they were actually good news?
  2. What if the cuts are actually the wrong response to the deficit and succeed only in pulling a section of the labour force out of work, landing them on benefits and causing a knock-on consumer downturn that pushes the whole economy back into recession?
  3. What if all this talk about the deficit and austerity is actually a smokescreen to allow governments to engage in an ideologically driven process to rebalance the economy in favour of the private sector?
  4. What if the opportunity to make cuts is being used in public sector organisations an arbitrary way to settle old scores by individuals up and down the management chain?
  5. What if the bits of the public sector that get cut most severely are those bits where nobody makes much of a fuss?
  6. What if the media are whipping up panic about a crisis because it makes better story than one about a long slow economic recovery?
  7. What if…

 

I’m not an economist so I’m really not sure what the best thing to do is here. I can’t help but think that massive public sector cuts probably isn’t it, but I would say that wouldn’t I. I’m also not necessarily against change in the public sector or a more “big society” conception of civil society as a way forward from a statist public sector. However, I like to feel I know what is being done and why. At the moment I feel a sense of panic and impending doom is underpinning too many decisions in the public sector without a clear sense of what is going to happen and why.

 

Is there any space in which to challenge the “everything must go” atmosphere. Maybe, maybe not. I guess as ever in a democracy it comes down to us to decide what we are going to do about it.