Our manifesto outlines “22 ways to build resilience and aspiration in people and communities” across five key areas. Download your copy.

Dismiss close

EducationEmployment and training

Unlocking opportunities: the importance of careers advice and guidance in schools

A young woman points with a pen at a computer screen as another young woman looks on.

Careers advice and guidance in schools can be a postcode lottery. Today’s blog explores how it is currently delivered, what makes effective provision and which cohorts are falling through the gaps.

Careers advice and guidance (CAG) plays a pivotal role in young people’s educational journey; it supports students to discover their interests, navigate the complex world of work or training and make informed decisions about their future. Its purpose is to deliver tailored support to all young people, allowing students to gain a clearer understanding of their strengths, interests, and aspirations, and make choices aligned with their goals.

What is careers advice and guidance?

The current CAG system in England is mainly delivered in schools and colleges, which follow statutory guidance written by the Department for Education, with significant involvement from external arms-length organisations like the Careers and Enterprise Company and National Careers Service.

In 2017, the government announced a new approach to CAG in schools. It recommended that, in order to meet their existing legal requirements to provide thorough, independent careers advice, schools follow the eight “Gatsby Benchmarks” developed by the Gatsby Foundation, and which have been based on national and international research.

The Careers and Enterprise Company was also launched to support schools in achieving these benchmarks and complying with law, and to create better networks for schools and colleges to work with employers and share effective strategies. The Careers and Enterprise Company aims to link secondary education providers and employers to deliver high quality careers guidance.

In January 2018, the Baker Clause was introduced to ensure all schools and colleges are offering information on apprenticeships and other further education pathways, to recognise the importance of technical educational routes. The law states that schools should be ensuring pupils from year 8 to year 13 are receiving information advice on technical education and apprenticeships from a range of employers and providers.

More recently, in January 2023, the Department for Education announced funding to deliver careers programmes to primary school students, in a bid to “encourage them to think about future jobs early, whilst nurturing aspirations and challenging stereotypes.”

How effective is the current provision?

Several metrics can help indicate the effectiveness of CAG, with one vitally important indicator of CAG success being “positive destinations.” Post-16 positive destinations encompass employment, education or training (EET), such as college or an apprenticeship.

In the UK, the not in education, employment and training (NEET) rate for 16-18 year olds has decreased and is one of the lowest on record at 6.4%. However, achieving a positive post-16 destination is only the starting point, and merely touches the surface of the potential value and impact of a good careers service. The stability and sustainability of those positive destinations can indicate whether CAG is having long-term and maintained impacts and is revealed by levels of youth unemployment and underemployment in the wider cohort. Indeed, between January and March 2023, there were 482,000 young people aged 16 to 24 who were unemployed, an increase of 11,000 from the previous quarter and an increase of 45,000 from a year before.

Alternative provision and specialist education

The problem is more profound in alternative provision (AP) and specialist education settings, of which Catch22 delivers several. For disadvantaged students, access to quality CAG is even more critical and the impact of quality support can be transformative. Students may face additional challenges such as limited networks, lack of role models, and socioeconomic barriers that can hinder their career exploration.

In 2020-2021, 66.5% of pupils from alternative provision schools went on to a positive destination, compared with 94.1% from state-funded mainstream schools. In other words, AP students are much less likely than their mainstream peers to reach a positive destination, hence there must be a considerable focus on how CAG can be improved to support this cohort specifically.

James, the Careers Lead at Catch22 Include Norfolk, said:

“Alternative provision schools provide an essential education platform for pupil’s who may have negative education experience from more than one previous school. The pupil and their parents will often be switched off from education and will have little aspiration of moving into post-16 destinations.

“Through their Careers Advice and Guidance offer, Alternative Providers inspire and motivate these young people to reach their potential through more dedicated and individualised information and guidance. They will develop stronger links with colleges and apprenticeship providers to ensure the student transition is smooth.

“At Catch22, we keep regular contact with Year 11 leavers for 12 months after they have departed. This allows us to reintegrate them into different post-16 destinations should the initial placement prove unsuccessful.”

Whilst local authorities have a legal requirement to support students who aren’t engaged in employment, education or training, schools must strive to understand why a student dropped off the roll. It is often the school and its staff themselves that understand the student’s needs, aspirations and strengths, and are best placed to support them back into employment, education or training. However, schools are not mandated to track destinations after students leave, which can result in many falling through the cracks.

Our recommendations

Catch22 are calling on the introduction of an Opportunity Guarantee: a guarantee to ensure all young people have the opportunity of an education place, apprenticeship or job. Schools, via their CAG delivery, have the power to level the playing field between students, enabling all to achieve a secure and sustainable post-16 destination regardless of their background or qualifications. This can be achieved through:

  • a new national strategy on careers that includes specialist support for young people in alternative provision and specialist education settings,
  • more investment in information for teachers and students on technical training routes, such as apprenticeships. This will ensure every school meets the statutory requirements of the Baker Clause, and
  • building engagement with local employers, to ensure that there is a joint up approach between skills being developed in schools and the job opportunities in the local economy.