Graham Stuart

Halfon’s barmy apprenticeship idea

Individual MP’s are perceived differently by members of the public, some work hard to even be noticed, some work hard on their public persona and some just work hard. One MP who I usually place in the last of those categories is the ex Education Minister Robert Halfon. Not being a constituent of his, my perception of his work was mostly formed by seeing his tenacious but effective style on the BBC documentary, Inside the Commons and his work as Minister of State for Skills July 2016 – June 2017. His recent election to the position of Chair of the Education Select Committee shows both his interest to remain at the centre of the education policy process and his ability to get the support of his fellow MPs.

At the recent Conservative Party conference, Halfon appeared with his Skills Ministerial successor, Anne Milton, at fringe event entitled, “Lost Learners: Delivering a skills revolution and providing opportunities for all” in which he suggested that

“We should look at things like the pupil premium and whether or not certain parts of it can be based or dependent on how many students they get, especially from deprived backgrounds, to go into high-quality apprenticeships,”

and that this would be part of a “carrot and stick” approach to improving the breadth of  careers advice on offer schools.

Let’s make no bones about it, this is an extremely bad idea. Lots of bad ideas will be floated at fringe conference events of all parties but that this came from the chair of the Education Select Committee is what makes it noteworthy. Previous holders of that post, particularly Graham Stuart MP, who championed and challenged Careers provision in schools while in the role, were much more judicious in their public offerings on Government policy.

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons.


As I’ve covered (it feels exhaustively over the years), there are not apprenticeship vacancies to fulfil the demand from young people.

In 2016/17

over a quarter of a million 16-18 year olds are making over 900,000 applications, going up against 262,970 other 18+ applicants for 169, 290 apprenticeship vacancies

And that’s the number of total apprenticeships, if Halfon means by “high quality” those at the higher levels and (usually) pay scales then the opportunities on offer are even further away from fulfilling demand.

apprenticeship vacancies by level

With Higher and Advanced level apprenticeship vacancies totalling 44,930 or 26.5% of the total number of apprenticeship vacancies in 16/17. There were over 1.5 million 15-18 year olds in English schools last academic year. If the ratio of students to vacancies is so high, then Halfon’s suggestion would lead to schools losing pupil premium money no matter the quality of CEIAG on offer.


Pupil Premium is becoming a core budget stream for schools.

As detailed in this House of Commons library Briefing Paper, Pupil Premium now equals different funding amounts for pupils dependant on their age and personal circumstances. In total though, the funding is worth £2.5bn each academic year to English schools. Surveys report that around a third of heads are having to use their Pupil Premium funds to cover other costs in school, not purely for closing the attainment gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, and it is the schools from the most disadvantaged areas most often affected. This would mean that the schools having to work hardest to propel their pupils along Halfon’s own “ladder of opportunity” metaphor would be the most affected by any cut in Pupil Premium funding dependant on employment outcomes. This would make it even harder for future cohorts of those schools to provide provision and so positive outcomes.


The proportion of pupils claiming Free School Meals (and so receiving Pupil Premium funding for their school) is falling.


Pupils do not automatically receive FSM, they (their parents/guardians) have to apply. Only those who have applied are used to calculate a school’s Pupil Premium funding so it is in the schools interests to encourage as many eligible pupils as possible to apply but not all do. Uptake is also linked to other factors, eligibility for FSM can be dependant on income related benefits which, as the linked article above points out, means that Government changes to benefit eligibility have a knock on effect. Larger scale changes such as Universal Credit can be introduced without their consequences on reliant funding streams being fully determined. These are factors which all influence a school’s pupil premium funding before any CEIAG provision to help a student gain an apprenticeship has even taken place.

Monitoring and reporting on a school’s CEIAG provision and including actual destination data of that school’s students in that monitoring are all sensible levers for policy makers to pull to build up CEIAG focus and provision in schools. Policy makers should use data rather than anecdote to form policy and conclude that to increase the numbers of young people securing apprenticeship vacancies there needs to be more vacancies and young people need funded, dedicated support to have the skills and experience to successfully apply for them. Suggesting that a school’s funding be removed if it’s pupils do not secure rare and highly sought after routes would make the job even harder for the schools who find this most difficult already. It is a baffling proposition.








Being part of Nicky’s package

In recent years an appearance by the Secretary of State in front of the Education Select Committee has always proved engrossing viewing not least the few times careers in schools was mentioned. The craters of destruction left by Mrs Morgan’s predecessor in front of the Committee on this subject have left many a pothole for her to stumble into so I can’t imagine last weeks session was an enticing date in the diary.

Ably handed by (a sometimes visibly exasperated) Graham Stuart, the session covered the DfE’s plans on the problems the new Careers company would solve (all of them apparently) and what problems would still be outside of its remit. The role of accountability and getting Destination Measures right loomed large, the conflict of interest caused by funding following those Post 16 bums and the role of those ever inspiring business leaders all appeared as seems to be now the norm in debates about school careers. In truth it was all a much of a muchness as Morgan said pleasant things about all the different players and parts of the school careers hotpot without actually committing to do anything differently. Indeed, the lukewarm platitudes on offer almost left me pining for Gove’s scorched earth splutter of disdain at the very mention of careers work. However misguided, at least it was a position arrived at with conviction.

The nugget in the session that the watching journalists found most newsworthy was the anecdote that some schools are now asking their receptionists to deliver careers advice. This was picked up by the BBC and the Independent as both a damming indictment of the lack of mandatory of quality standards required by the DfE and the lip service schools are seemingly paying to this work.

Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton South, said public service union Unison had undertaken research which showed that 83 per cent of schools no longer employed professional careers advisers or teachers. The role, he added, had been “picked up by people including, in many cases, teaching assistants and other support staff who are totally ill-equipped”.

Graham Stuart, the committee’s Conservative chairman, said he had received evidence that one of the new University Technical Colleges – which specialise in vocational education for 14- to 19-year-olds – was training its receptionist to be their careers adviser “while running the reception”.

This contrast between the warm words from Morgan and the reality of decisions being made by schools is a contradiction that echoes the timelines of other education policies from the Coalition. At first freedom for schools, then criticism of provision and then the carrot/stick of new accountability measures to realign the actions taken by schools with the outcomes desired by Government. If Destination data is done right and the accountability of leavers sustained outcomes firmly included in a school’s evaluation by both the general public and Ofsted, in my view, it would go a long way to focusing school leaders efforts into providing a quality careers offer in their establishment. It wouldn’t be the whole solution, brokerage, funding, quality CPD and coherent local and national networks would all have a role to play but this view, of placing the accountability ahead of mandated standards to lead change, does seem different to other views I’ve seen on-line. It’s one based in the realism that, just because schools are told to do something, it doesn’t mean they then do it and that changing accountability measures have made distinct changes to school behaviour in the recent past.

(Incidentally, how Morgan’s claims that Destination data is getting more robust as “just 2% of the cohort were not captured in the data” fits with the statistic used by Ofsted’s Lorna Fitzjohn in her recent FE annual lecture that in some Local Authorities up to 40% of young people’s destination is unknown, I’m not sure).

Those who wish to defend and enhance the professional stature of the sector were clear that policy makers should assign prominence to careers practitioners as a panacea for the ills of the sector. The reporting of the belittling of the role of a school careers adviser seemed, to me, an exercise in finger-pointing that misses those other parts of the jigsaw I’ve mentioned above. Those support staff delivering careers programs to young people might not currently hold the relevant standard of professionalism to gain the immediate seal of approval from the sector but that doesn’t mean they won’t become brilliant careers advisers who then go onto to be trained by their school to a suitable professional standard. It doesn’t mean that, through their endeavour and determination to fulfil their careers duties well, they show the school the benefits of doing careers work properly. I hope we are not sneering at them because their immediate professional background was a receptionist or a teaching assistant but because of fears that they are being asked to fit careers work around other duties. Across the wider sector even teachers can become qualified while doing the job; certification and ‘professionalism’ don’t have to be gatekeepers, they are staging points on the journey then travelled. Of course, for this scenario to be a tale with a positive outcome the school would then be required to play it’s part in up-skilling their employee by providing resources for CPD and quality provision. That’s more likely with welcoming, persuasive and accessible offers of support and training from the national careers bodies.

Being a stickler for professional school careers appointments fails to acknowledge the wider realities of funding constraints and the lack of importance in the accountability system that isn’t leading to oven ready roles that match an ideal of professionalism. It is by far the more difficult task to challenge the wider realities which contribute to the decisions behind those type of appointments, but, in this ex teaching assistants view, it’s those realities which need challenging if we are to achieve an integrated youth careers provision in schools that can positively influence outcomes for young people.

#AskGove #Careers Education Select Committee 18/12/13

We knew it wouldn’t be pretty but we just didn’t know how ugly it would be. The Education Secretary’s complete lack of interest in Careers work in schools during his time in office always meant that a dedicated session on it as part of the #AskGove Education Select Committee (from around the 10.14am mark) would be like a child discovering Brussel Sprouts for the first time in slow motion but, at times, the plain disgust was even more apparent.

Pressed by the Chair Graham Stuart and ably quizzed by Ian Mearns, the Education Secretary refused to concede that the IAG service on offer to young people had gotten worse under his watch, that Careers Advisers where, in any way, part of the solution to the eternal business + education interface issue and even labelled Careers leaders as lobbyists who place self-interest above working solutions for children and talk “garbage.”

He rebuffed tentative suggestions that initial teacher training should include any careers input, minimised accusations of schools funneling students into Sixth Forms for funding purposes and dismissed any evidence of the dismal state of the current situation as pretty worthless.

He contended that the triumvirate of Destination Measures, Matthew Hancock’s Vision plan and breaking the employer/education boundaries would continue the improvement he believes is materializing in Careers.

At one point he contended that students are already making “better” choices not due to IAG but because of the performance table levers the Dfe had pulled and the Wolf Report recommendations they had acted upon. It should be said that he higher numbers of students taking traditional academic subjects that has resulted from this is a plus point. I have read and find much to agree with in the evidence that shows this is good for social mobility but Mr Gove…young people are individuals even within that more traditional curriculum who appreciate support and guidance. This isn’t a disagreement over the percentage of 14 years olds doing hairdressing.

Gove finished on an impassioned outline of the Department’s vision of improving the quality and quantity of employer interaction with students as the sole answer to better preparing young people for the decisions they must make and the hills they must climb, which to my mind, misses a vital part of the jigsaw.

Young people are interested in the world of work, they want to know more about the sheer variety and scale out there, they want to experience this world, try it out and see what feels right for them. They want to begin to grasp how they might fit into it, understand how what they’re learning now might help them open doors in the future and what those first rungs on the ladder might look like. They want to know how to behave and act in this wholly different world from education, discover and learn from the stories of people who have trodden this path before them and even hear of paths they never knew existed. The Dfe would seemingly like activities that fulfill all of those needs to be organised by schools. Well, perhaps they could even be organised by an approachable face in school, someone the young people know and can rely on as part of the school community. That person could enact the gauntlet of  activities from talks to tasters to work experience to workshops and, from time to time, could even find themselves answering questions from the students about local courses or opportunities, helping them organise inroads into employers they otherwise would not make, reminding them of application deadlines or even provide the occasional motivational nugget to spur them onto those distant goals.

Hey presto, suddenly, you’ve got something you didn’t sound much like you wanted today, a Careers Adviser.

I am not here to promote routes that shout the loudest. I am here to promote routes.

Last week saw the annual Vocational Qualifications Day with much fanfare of awards and tasters and reminders of the need to improve the image and take up of vocational routes.

It’s a worthy cause and gives much to celebrate but amid all of the build up and Press Release snippets a familiar picture is emerging.

#VQDay has a seedier side as #BashCareersDay

For the build up sees the daily news cycle spiked with stories about the “terrible state of careers advice.”

And the day sees the great and the good step up to the plate to deliver negative soundbites about the failure of careers advice.

This bashing though sows the seed for a potential side effect to grow, that the short cut for “Good careers advice” will be “well, we promote vocational routes.”

A seed that the future influx of destination statistics into a school’s data profile could nurture as schools begin to use this information in their own press interactions.

Careers leaders must not allow this to happen and stay the course of promoting ALL quality routes.

It feels lost, amid the razzmatazz, that LMI and the genuine needs of the future job market alongside a considered reflection of their own interests and strengths, should be the real elements of persuasion for young people to consider a vocational route.

A few years back now, I took  some students to a local event that introduced the Labour 14-19 Diploma to them. The venue was awash with balloons, touch screen computers and quick-moving presentations by two twins who were ex contestants on the BBC reality TV show The Restaurant. The youngsters were bowled over by the flash. The problem is those young learners that then took the qualification are probably still waiting for the bang.

I am not here to promote routes that shout the loudest. I am here to promote routes.

Careers guidance for young people: The impact of the new duty on schools – Education Committee Report – aka Graham Stuart says whoa there pickle

Published this morning is this report

from the Education Select Committee who, over a number of sessions, listened to the great and the good about what had happened to Careers services for young people since the demise of Connexions (which always seems to be followed with cries of “Boo! Hiss! Was rubbish!” these days) and the placement of a statutory duty on schools to acquire impartial careers advice for their students.

And, to get to the point, it’s a document with some very good bits. Some of the suggestions are what should have been put in place right from the start. There’s plenty of recommendations that I think would move careers advice forward in schools. It is clear about what is currently working and what isn’t and, in an all too rare quality from Government documents, it knows it’s stuff.

A few of the highlights

31.  The Government’s decision to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools is regrettable. 

It may be regrettable but it’s happened. The Report acknowledges this and quickly moves onto what should now be done to shore up the current mess.

46.  We commend the efforts made by some local authorities to support their schools in taking on the new duty, particularly by working with them to form consortia and partnerships to procure independent and impartial careers guidance. We recommend that the Government’s statutory guidance is strengthened to emphasise the benefits of this approach.

This is good in theory but won’t work in reality. Local Authorities and schools are currently picking their way through the political minefield left by the mass academisation of the secondary school system and there is much which both parties are unsure who is responsible for or who can intervene with what methods. Many Local Authorities are still unclear over their remit or responsibilities of intervention in academies which are falling below the GCSE floor standards or receiving poor Ofsted inspections. If the two groups are still finding their feet with such basic responsibilities of local school governance as that, than careers IAG will have to wait.

56.  We note the disconnect between the Minister’s view of the role of Ofsted in enforcing accountability on schools through its inspection framework, and Ofsted’s own view. The limitations which Ofsted set out to us—the fact that its inspections do not make a clear judgement on careers guidance provision in schools, that it does not inspect against statutory compliance in this area and that it does not routinely inspect all schools—means that the Ofsted framework is not a credible accountability check on the provision of careers guidance by individual schools.

As they say on the internet – BOOM. This is a massively important point for me. All of this is just fluff if it isn’t regulated in any meaningful way and, currently, the Schools Regulator doesn’t think it should be regulating Careers IAG. But the Minister for Skills thinks they do. There needs to be a solution to this, el pronto.

59.  We conclude that destination measures as they currently stand are not effective for ensuring that schools meet their statutory duty.

Yep, agree with that too. It’s useful data for adapting in school practice and for parents to consider outcomes but it doesn’t answer all of the questions the Dfe want it to.

63.  We recommend that the Department for Education introduces into the statutory guidance a requirement for schools to publish an annual careers plan, to include information on the support and resources available to its pupils in planning their career development. Schools should be required to review the plan systematically on an annual basis, taking into account the views of students, parents, employers and other learning providers.

Monsieur Stuart, now you’re just showing off. I love that idea. Schools are now required to publish lots of specific policies and utilise ever spangly websites to do so. A Careers Plan would be easy to add to these and very worthwhile.

74.  We recommend that the remit of the National Careers Service is expanded to enable it to perform a capacity-building and brokerage role for schools. As part of its capacity-building role, the National Careers Service should work with individual schools in designing their annual careers plan of provision for careers guidance as well as provide schools with local labour market information. Clearly, this would have funding implications and so we further recommend that the Department of Education instructs the Skills Funding Agency to cost the options of the National Careers Service remit being expanded in this way. 

Fine, sensible suggestion. Many schools will find the Duty too much of a burden or consider that they do not have experience staff in the area so they will look to outsource and any expertise or impartiality in this area would be welcomed by schools. But there needs to be flexibility as well. Some schools or consortia of schools have reacted quickly to the Duty and put in place robust and interesting systems to embrace the opportunities on offer to their students. These schools shouldn’t be asked to restart again with a one size fits all model.

81.  Access to face-to-face guidance is an integral part of good quality careers guidance. All young people should have access to such provision from a qualified, independent provider, should they choose to take up the opportunity. We recommend that a minimum of one personal careers interview with an independent adviser who is not a teacher should be available for every young person and that this is made explicit in the statutory guidance.

Lovely stuff.

86.  Websites are a valuable source of information about careers for young people. They cannot, however, replace face-to-face guidance, nor are they sufficient in themselves to fulfil the requirement on schools to provide independent, impartial guidance. To ensure that schools do not over-rely on directing their students to websites, we recommend that the Department for Education amends the statutory guidance to schools to make it clear that the signposting of independent websites is insufficient to meet their statutory duty.

Even lovelier stuff!

93.  We welcome the Government’s support for the increased involvement of local employers in careers guidance in schools, which is vital for effective careers provision. We recommend that schools be required to set out in their careers plans their arrangements with local employers and how they intend to enhance them.

Schools wearing their links with local employers as a badge of honour is something I’ve blogged about before and will make more sense as Studio schools and University Technical Colleges expand and compete for students at KS4.

109.  The Government’s decision to remove the statutory duty on schools to provide careers education and work-related learning has been heavily criticised by witnesses to our inquiry. We are persuaded of the benefits of both these former provisions and we recommend that the Government’s statutory guidance to schools is strengthened to require schools to provide careers education and work-related learning as part of their duty. 

*Insert picture of me dancing for joy*

Now all that needs to happen is for the Dfe to listen and to implement. The ball is in Michael Gove’s court.