The provision of advice and guidance for teenagers at school has plummeted over the last 12 years suggests a major survey commissioned by the Sutton Trust. The decline comes despite a growing need for students, particularly those from non-privileged backgrounds, to be guided through the increasingly varied and complex educational options now on offer, and the limited careers choices open to them in an economic recession.

The annual survey of 15 and 16 year olds by Durham University researchers shows the proportion of students reporting they had formal career adviser meetings fell from 85% in 1997 to 55% in 2008.

The proportion of students saying they learned ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ from career advisors or teachers fell from 49% in 1997 to 25% in 2008, while those receiving career talks reduced from 45% in 1997 to 22% in 2008.

The survey, which asks the same questions to tens of thousands of school children each year, found that the number of school pupils visiting universities has increased: 11% said they had visited a university in 1997, rising to 23% in 2008.

The research suggests that 100,000s of school pupils in England are now reaching the end of their GCSEs receiving no formal advice at all on their future – and are subsequently having to rely on more informal sources of guidance, in particular, from parents and families.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The stark decline in advice and guidance in schools over the last decade indicated by these findings is a particular concern for non-privileged children – many of whom can not turn to well-informed parents or families to guide them through the choices that are so critical to future life prospects.

“No-one should underestimate the impact this is likely to have on limiting social mobility in this country. And the need for informed guidance is even more pressing now than ever before, given the vast array of educational options available to children and the more limited career choices during a recession.”

Last year the Trust published a report for the National Council for Educational Excellence that suggested that at least half of careers and education advice in state schools was inadequate or inappropriate. Meanwhile research published by the Trust earlier this year found that students attending the poorest schools were ten times more likely to take certain vocational qualifications than pupils in the most advantaged schools. The Government is expected shortly to announce its Information Advice and Guidance strategy for schools and young people in England.

The Trust believes that radical reforms are needed to ensure that all children receive appropriate advice to negotiate an increasingly complex educational landscape. Our concern is that too many school children are making ill-informed choices early on which puts them out of the running for certain university choices and careers later in life.

In its report to the NCEE last year the Trust proposed that:

  • Every secondary school should have a lead teacher responsible for higher education information, advice and guidance at every Key Stage (ages 11-14, 14-16 and 16-18).
  • There should be a duty on schools, colleges and local authorities to ensure provision contains certain key elements: for example, one visit to a university campus and activities involving parents.
  • A specialist network of local advisors (independent of schools) should be created to ensure all young people have access to specific expertise, drawing on the resources of universities, colleges, businesses and independent and state schools.
  • Support and guidance should be targeted early on, particularly at the end of primary school, and sustained in to Key Stage 3 (age 11-14) but also provided at all key transitions.

The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at Durham University survey is based on returns from tens of thousands of school children surveyed each year.  Main findings include:

  • In 1997 85% of students said they had had a formal ‘Career Action Plan’ meeting with a careers advisor or teacher; by 2008 55% of students reported such a meeting.
  • The number of students saying they learned ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ from career advisors/ teachers reduced from 49% in 1997 to 25% in 2008.
  • The number of career talks from professional advisors or careers teachers reduced from 45% in 1997 to 22% in 2008.
  • The number of university visits has increased: 11% of school pupils said they had visited a university in 1997, rising to 23% in 2008.

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