The committee met to explore whether current career advice provides sufficient guidance for career choice, employment, training, and further and higher education opportunities. In both the selection of the witnesses and the questions asked, there was a clear bias towards excoriating schools and careers professionals for not doing enough awareness raising around degree apprenticeships.
Collectively the witnesses testified that the advice they had received at school was based on luck – fluctuating in quality from school to school. One student reported one detailed discussion with a career advisor per student, and another said a plethora of mock interviews, days out visiting different colleges, universities, and businesses, as well as school visits from different businesses. In contrast, others reported minimal career advice (such as seeing an advisor once for 30 minutes) or – more worryingly – just a two-minute conversation on results day where the professional gave suggestions on what the students could do with their grades. The students who received good advice from an adult – but not from structured intervention – attributed it to an individual member of staff’s enthusiasm or having role models – such as parents – in a particular field and so with blueprints they could follow.
Many reported never hearing about degree apprenticeships and suggested that their schools were “pushing” academia and traditional university courses “as the only route”, with one student suggesting that teachers encourage students to go to university because they themselves went to university, and another saying that all their school cared about what academia and A Levels. This raised immediate questions from MP Ian Mearns about the impartiality of such advice.
However, there was little transparency regarding how previous government decisions – such as cutting CEIAG funding by £200m per year and responsibility for careers advice put onto schools without any additional funding – have impacted the CEIAG landscape in England (worth noting that other home nations, particularly Scotland and Wales, have true all-age careers systems). At one point, MP Flick Drummond enthused that “independent schools bring in their alumni to inspire students, every school should be doing that, every school should be…. “ Perhaps trailing off with the realisation that this would essentially point to the elephant in the room of massively defunded careers budgets in state schools. I also wonder if such independent schools would come under similar scrutiny concerning the lack of apprenticeship promotion.
Two students did offer a counter experience – she felt that her school pushed apprenticeships more than university, adding that this was detrimental as she had to work out how to go through A-levels and on to university, herself. These comments were not followed up, perhaps because they do not fit the “schools don’t talk enough about apprenticeships” agenda.
There were no caveats for the witnesses surrounding the supply and demand issues with degree apprenticeships, nor the concerns around the drop-out rate for apprenticeships in general – only that apprenticeships are not spoken of enough by teachers and careers professionals and this is the totality of the issue.