Interesting latest announcement from the Prime Minister


Yesterday the Prime Minister announced “a new generation of high-flying mentors to help struggling teens“.  The rationale is that good mentoring can support individuals to find their passion and inspire them to make positive choices in their life.

Many people can look back at their younger selves and point to someone, perhaps a parent or teacher, a sports coach, or their first boss, and say ‘that’s the person who found my passion. They’re the ones who made the difference’.

This new campaign to recruit mentors for young people will be managed by the Careers and Enterprise Company. The announcements is short of specifics, but it is very positive that this initiative is linked to the last one (the C&E Company) and suggests that the organisation might be around for a while.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in the press release is the following statement.

Government will spend £70 million on its strategy to improve careers education and guidance in this Parliament, including continued funding for The Careers and Enterprise Company, which was announced by the Secretary of State for Education in December 2014 and set up a year ago.

I haven’t seen this figure of £70 million on careers in this Parliament before. It is a lot less than the £200 million a year that was back in 2010/2011, but it is more than the £20 million that was announced by the government last year. I’d be very interested to see a breakdown of how this is going to be spent.

It seems like things are starting to move in the right direction…



The Government don’t love careers websites either

Earlier this week I went to an excellent ESRC event on the use of technology in careers work. There were some very interesting presentations by Cathy Howieson, Raimo Vuorinen, Jenny Bimrose and others. At some point I might try and blog about some of the papers that were given, but I thought that I’d write a quick post to try and nail a myth that is developing in the careers sector and which I heard rehearsed more than once during that day.

The story is that the government believe that the role that was previously played by careers workers can now be played by technology. The rhetoric is therefore of “face-to-face guidance being replaced with a website”. I’ve written in the past about how unhelpful I think this kind of polarising rhetoric can be. The question shouldn’t be careers worker or web but rather how can careers workers best use the web.

If we accept the governments’ analysis of public finances (and I don’t but the policy will stand regardless of what I think) we are probably going to have to recognise that we are likely to see a decline in the amount of resource that is being allocated to careers work and other public services. In this situation I think that it is right for the government, the sector and the end users to ask seriously whether there are any increases in efficiency that can be found and whether online service provision might be part of that.

Furthermore, I think that there are lots of good reasons for moving more careers work online. The chance to utilise the functionality offered by online spaces, to harness online networks and to open up careers services to a much broader range of people (especially those in work who can’t easily get to a Next Step office) seems to be hugely valuable to me.

So my problem is not with the idea of online careers work, nor with the idea that it is possible to have a greater impact using online delivery nor with the idea that there should be some re-balancing between face-to-face and online provision. My problem is actually with the government’s decision to cut the resourcing for careers services in general. This cut in resourcing has definitely resulted in a massive decrease in funding for face-to-face. What it has absolutely not resulted in is an increase in funding for online, publically funded careers provision. At best this has got no worse, but the level of funding invested in this channel was very limited to being with. I hope that the new National Careers Service online offer is better than what went before, but there is no sense that the new site is being given anything like the kinds of funding that has been taken away from face-to-face provision.

It may be that the government’s policy is that it would like the private sector to fill this online career support space. We addressed this in our paper Enhancing Choice and argued that to some extent this was happening, but that government still had some crucial roles to play in helping to stimulate and regulate this market in online career support and also an important role in compensating for its failures. However at the moment the government is neither investing in online provision of careers services, nor is it making policy with the aim of ensuring that this need is met in other ways.

In other words if you strip away the thin rhetoric there is no plan to replace face-to-face careers work with online careers work. There is no policy or strategy in this area at all. What we have is a decision to cut service being masked with a vague sense that the internet will sort it all out. The careers sector should be honing in on this lack of policy and on the vicious cuts that have been made. At the moment this is a fight about money and politics, it isn’t a fight about the appropriate delivery mode for careers services.

John Hayes to give iCeGS Annual Lecture (Thursday 16th June, 2011, 1.00pm)

John Hayes MP, Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning who has lead responsibility for the careers service will be addressing iCeGS on Thursday 16th June. The Minister’s speech will set out the future vision for careers guidance in England, including plans for an all-age careers service.

If you would like to book a place to attend please visit



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.


Michael Gove Westminster Speech

Michael Gove gave a speech to Westminster Academy earlier this month. It is worth a read for those of you who are interested in the government’s thinking on education. Gove praises teachers and says that Britain has got some of the best schools in the world, but feels that too many schools are poor. Unsurprising he says that the last government is to blame. Fair enough, he’s a politician, blaming the last lot is his job.

Gove then goes on to deal with some interesting stuff. What is wrong, he argues, is that too many of the poor (quality) schools are where (financially) poor people go. He argues that this isn’t right. Schools he says should be engines of social mobility. Currently this isn’t the case and Gove once again blames the previous government. On their watch he argues Britain slipped down the international educational league tables.

Gove fills his speech with statistics and research. He cites Leon Feinstein, the PISA survey, Michael Barber and Fenton Whelan. So what is his answer? The last post I wrote (about The Spirit Level) suggested one possible answer – essentially that educational performance is worse for both poor people and across the board because our society is too unequal. I’m guessing that Gove doesn’t buy this analysis, but I’d still be interested to hear what he has to say about it.

Gove’s plan is not to reduce inequality but rather to increase the amount of assessment and the rigour of external testing, to free up schools (AKA remove them from local authority control) and to support the teaching profession (which seems to be a mix of a bit less central curriculum, a bit more disciplinary authority and some more male teachers).

However he then goes on to talk more about teachers. Teachers are important – it is they who determine pupil success and not silly old things like inequality. He then talks a lot about Teach First which is essentially a school based teacher training programme. I don’t know alot about Teach First so I’m not going to say that this is a a bad decision. What I am pretty sure about is that education is both a theoretical and a practical activity. I hope the government will be wary about going in a direction that reduces the level of pedagogic understanding of teachers and replaces it with more practical experience. I’m not saying that Teach First does this, but my feeling is probably that university based teacher education is not theoretical enough rather than too theoretical as some people seem to be suggesting. Obviously an HE school of education is not the only place that you can learn critical pedagogy – but it probably is the first place that many teachers do encounter it.

Another big idea is the Pupil Premium which will direct some money to schools in poorer areas. This might be good – obviously it depends in part on how big the premium is and where it is taken from. Another big idea is phonics, another is curriculum innovation through computer games. Gosh, Gove is all over the place, but you can’t blame him for lack of ideas. On we go, an English Baccalaureate, more language learning and of course more STEM.

Wow – he’s certainly going to be busy. There is such a mix here that I’m not really sure what it all adds up to. Some stuff is good, other bits raise concerns, some seem peripheral at best. Ultimately the devil will be in the detail and in the implementation and all of that waits for us down the road….

The Careers Market(s)

Here are some thoughts on the careers market. I’d appreciate any feedback that anyone can give me as to whether this is making any sort of sense.


Careers is a complex field which encompasses a large amount of life, learning and work. One way to conceptualise the field is to see careers as a market within which a number of actors are operating. Each actor pursues their own needs, interests and concerns and through a series of transactions the market as a whole reaches some kind of accommodation. The purpose of this discussion is to establish some key terms that may be useful in examining this market and how it operates.


If an individual is seeking employment we describe them as interacting with the labour market. They may ask the question “what work can I do?” while employers correspondingly ask “who can I get?” in their search for the appropriate human capital to fill the post.


Closely allied to the labour market is the learning market. In this market individuals ask “what qualifications do I need?” and “where should I study”. Learning providers vie to attract these individuals either to offer them courses in exchange for money or to access public money of various kinds.


Taken together the labour market and the learning market might be said to comprise the careers market. In this sense the careers market comprises of all of the opportunities that an individual might pursue within their career and all of the employers, learning providers and other organisations who are providing these opportunities. Even for an individual with relatively little career capital to spend this is likely to be a bewildering market to enter. Without some help and tools to manage their interactions with the market they are vulnerable to being misled and may subsequently make bad choices.


However, individuals are not left alone to sift through the market information as they make their decisions with the careers market. Rather they are able to access a wide range of support, advice and information. This career helping market is also complex and involves those who are looking for help choosing between services which offer different amounts of interaction, impartiality, independence, cost and expertise. Actors in the career helping market include conventional public sector careers services and their close relations private sector careers coaches, but it might also include a plethora of information sources, recruitment sites and consultancies, education and training initiatives and mentoring schemes as well as the social and professional networks of the individuals seeking help.


If it is economically important for individuals skills and potential to be best utilised then the functioning of the careers market is of critical public concern. If the careers market functions well individuals will engage positively in the economy, finding opportunities that fulfil them and developing skills that enable them to take advantage of market opportunities. Conversely if the careers market functions badly individual aspiration will be stymied and human capital will not be applied to the sections of the economy in which it is most valuable.


One approach to this problem might be to argue that if the careers market is indeed a market why not leave it to the ‘invisible hand’ to resolve what is best applied where. Whatever your opinion about the likelihood of free market economics to deliver the best result for all concerned we are dealing here with something that is a long way from a free market. The government is a major employer in the labour market, it funds a large percentage of the learning market and also provides a key segment of the career helping market through the provision of professional IAG services such as Connexions and Next Step.


If the invisible hand is being guided it is important to think about the direction in which it is being guided. The intervention of government and the wider public sector shapes the careers market but does not fully determine its nature or outcomes. There is therefore room for further thought about how the public sector relates to the other players in the market (from employers to careers coaches) and how it uses the policy levers at its disposal (funding, regulation, legislation, recommendation etc) to further shape the market.


In the current environment of policy change and challenges to public sector spending it is important to be clear about what public money is buying and why. I believe that thinking about public sector in terms of its role in shaping a market as well as in delivering a services is a useful contribution to this discussion.


Am I right?