We all know the statistics. 2.65 million unemployed overall. Over 1 million 16- to 24-year-olds looking for work – which constitutes a staggering 22% of that age group. And with little sign of things improving as growth continues to stagnate and the government cuts begin to bite.
Coalition austerity is having a fundamental impact on so many societies, communities and corners of the country. Young people can rightly feel that they have been particularly singled out for harsh treatment, and I’ve already argued in a previous column that this could be down to the fact that 16– to 25-year-olds simply don’t vote in great enough numbers. When difficult decisions have to be taken by those in power, they will be most swayed by the groups that ultimately vote, and so students and young people get hit time and again.
And whilst the headlines have largely been saved for the trebling of tuition fees, and to a lesser extent the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the cuts to careers provision could have the most insidious repercussions of all. With little fanfare, and a great deal of bravado from the coalition claiming their new National Careers Service (which appears to be little more than a website and a phone number) will somehow replace the sophisticated careers infrastructure that had been built up over the last decade. Coupled with the axeing of the AimHigher programme, which provided funding for universities’ outreach into schools, the bulk of the face to face careers support appears to have been lost. And now only ‘priority groups’ such as young people with special educational needs will qualify for face to face guidance.
Whilst schools do have a duty to provide independent, impartial careers advice, schools will have no extra money to do this. And whereas previously they would have been able to use the Connexions and local authority services, this has all been removed. The idea that young people can simply be palmed off with a website and a telephone number as an adequate portal for vital careers advice may well be the biggest insult Michael Gove has dealt our generation of school pupils. This from the same man who was quite happy to see £65 million spent on a new yacht for the Queen to help her celebrate the Diamond Jubilee – as if there wasn’t quite enough of a celebration.
Laudably, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has repeatedly spoken of the importance of improving social mobility during his time in government. To be frank, despite the investment that the previous Labour government put into schools, which saw a dramatic improvement in standards, grades and progress into higher education, it still did not translate into serious progress in social mobility. But if Mr Clegg is to have any chance of realising his ambition of seeing a transformation in social mobility as documented in his report, ‘Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers’, then more emphasis needs to be placed on suitably funded careers support in those crucial transition years. Ofsted have been charged with conducting a review of the current careers baseline, due to report in summer 2013. Not only is this still a long way away, there is no sign that the underlying issue of funding and infrastructure will be remedied. And like so many of Nick Clegg’s pledges, they will be doomed to failure unless he has the will to act.
At a time when making decisions about the future is crucial, when aspiration toward further study looks to be reversing for the first time in decades, the need for sophisticated, face to face careers advice could not be important.
What do you think?
Aaron Porter is a freelance journalist, broadcaster and education consultant. He was previously President of the National Union of Students 2010-11 during the high profile tuition fee debate. He tweets at @AaronPorter.