Dire Financial Situation in Schools Threatens the Careers Strategy

Opinion from Andy Gardner November 2018

As Dr Deirdre Hughes notes in her blog, Time to Rethink (1) “At a time of ‘little extras’ and stringent cuts in education and local authority budgets, many schools and colleges are increasingly unable to afford career guidance for their students.”  She also points out that “In 2001, circa £450m was spent annually on career services for young people in England. By 2011, this was reduced to £196m and today this figure is circa £100m. Of this, less than 1% goes to schools and colleges to enable them to purchase careers advisers’ expertise. They must buy in from external providers or develop their own in-house provision.”

I know from working in schools for over 30 years, that if you want to find out what’s really going on in a school, ask the finance team.  So that’s what I did.

The picture painted by the staff working in schools finance teams was both bleak and heart-warming at the same time.

Bleak purely because of the financial position, quotes included:

“This year we have had a 1% rise in income and our expenses have increased by 3.5%”

“This year we have been given help from the LEA reserves, but they can’t keep on doing this” (obviously not an option if you are an Academy)

“We have PFI commitments, these costs are rising by 3% which is the RPI rate, set against the 1% rise in income”

“We now have increasing performance management costs, services from LEAs and huge restocking of books costs (due to curriculum change – thanks Mr Gove!)”

“Schools have been cut since 2010.  We have 8-10% less to do the same work”

“Whether it is Teacher Salaries, Utilities, Lab Materials, Cover teachers, all of these costs are above any rises in income that we get”

What is heart-warming is that set against this background, many schools – including their finance teams do consider Careers Education and Guidance important, and somehow are managing to magic up the funds to do something good in many schools, however it is simply unrealistic to expect all schools to implement the Careers Strategy across the board, because when it comes to priorities some Heads will be faced by much starker priorities such as “do we have someone with some sort of subject knowledge to put in front of every class?”

Deirdre makes the point about Careers and Enterprise Company funds being redirected directly to schools to help provide CEG services.  For me there is a deeper long term problem and that is the politicising of Careers Education and Guidance.  Connexions was a major plank of New Labours Social Mobility strategy and was so New Labour, that the incoming Conservative dominated Coalition despised it, and then brought in the Careers and Enterprise Company, an employer and enterprise Quango, the brainchild of Nicky Morgan and Kenneth Baker, a free market, employer led world view that would “get Careers right” by employer involvement in schools and lots of nudge theory.  If there is a change of government, will the CEC survive?

While the Careers Strategy is a brilliant framework,  unless we have  funded Careers Leaders, funded EBP/CEC type activities and funded one-to-one services in every locality with physical venues and human staff we will never “get Careers right”.  The only approach that will work is a holistic one that treats Careers Leaders, EBP/CEC and Professional Careers Guidance Advisers equally, in both long lasting organisations and equal funding that are not at the whim of irresponsible politicians.

Finally, do I think that the ground-breaking and most welcome Careers Strategy can be implemented in every school by December 2020?  Set against the current financial situation and the usual inspection, hearts and minds and statutory issues – absolutely not!

(1) http://dmhassociates.org/time-to-rethink

Comments 6

  1. So happy that at last someone else is thinking the same as me – give the money direct to the schools instead of the CEC who have no understanding of how schools work and just dip in and out to justify their own existence and provide very little real assistance.

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      I think the CEC are in a very difficult place. They are very much of the ideas of the politicians that set them up. They do not work everywhere and many schools do not get anything other than reports and the Compass Tool (which is useful). Other Politicians are now realising that we still have NEETs and they need more help and that is not what the CEC was set up for. The CECs weakness is the very methodology that led to it’s formation. Eventually someone will go – “we can use this money in other ways”, however, the money the CEC has is not enough to get careers right. But is it reasonable to say now that we know the careers strategy, that most of the CEC money should go directly to schools.

  2. Andy, whilst it’s good to hear that schools are still trying to do their best given impossible financial constraints, those figures in the first paragraph are truly shocking. They really only emphasize that the concept and necessity of professional careers guidance is and has been for decades totally misunderstood by policy makers.
    It’s all well and good having strategies etc but if you don’t back it up with proper finances then these are just empty words, pointless meetings and frustrated attempts by good people at meaningful action. So depressing.

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      Quite John, it’s lot’s of stuff (and I do think it’s good stuff) with no financial backing whatsoever. So things will remain patchy, perhaps less patchy, but patchy nevertheless.
      I used to know someone who had a dog called Patchy – named for obvious reasons.

  3. Yes, the amount of money put into the Careers & Enterprise Quango has also been a contentious issue – and the setting up of Careers Hubs, not in all areas seems very unfair.

    Text Books for different exam boards that often get out-dated are always a contentious issue. Many schools and colleges deal with this by asking students to buy their own, look after them and sell on at end of year. Of course, anyone on free meals or requiring further support were given them on the condition they were looked after and given back.
    Schools and colleges who do make funding available for impartial careers advice are not always happy when students are told to do further research before making A Level and equivalent choices, with some Heads of Department complaining that Careers Advisors are telling students ‘not to do their subject’ mainly because with some only able to choose 3 subjects, their options may be reduced!
    It is clear that much more work is needed lower down the key stages to help choose subjects that might be thought of as essential in some areas!
    That is why it is important that the Gatsby Benchmarks are utilised, monitored and checked by teachers, parents and learners to ensure they are receiving effective information, advice and guidance in order to make informed decisions.

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