The National Careers Service – which currently offers telephone and web-based advice to schools – should extend its role and provide students with face to face advice from specialist career advisers to end a ‘postcode lottery’ that is hindering social mobility, the Sutton Trust said today.

The call comes as a new Sutton Trust report, Advancing Ambitions, by Professor Tristram Hooley of University of Derby, shows that where schools provide good quality career guidance, there are improvements in GCSE results, attendance and access to leading universities.

In 2011, the coalition government placed a legal duty on schools and colleges to provide career guidance. But the new report says that this was accompanied by ‘weak statutory guidance and little help or support. This has resulted in a decline in the quality and quantity of the career guidance available to young people in England and the emergence of a ‘postcode lottery’ where some young people have access to much better career guidance than others.’

The researchers compared schools which had received a ‘quality award’ for their career guidance with those that had not received such accreditation.  Controlling for other factors, they found that schools with the awards had a two percentage point advantage in the proportion of pupils with five good GCSEs, including English and Maths. They also found a small but significant reduction in persistent absences (of 0.5%).

In the sixth form, they found that the proportion of students gaining 3 A levels was 1.5% higher in schools and sixth form colleges with the quality awards than other schools, and students also had higher UCAS scores, though the gains were not repeated in general further education colleges. Sixth form colleges with accredited career guidance showed a significant increase in the number of students going to leading universities.

The report makes recommendations to improve the quality and consistency of career guidance.

These include:

  • Strengthen the National Careers Service and give it a clear role and resources to support schools in the delivery of career guidance. Ideally this would include providing schools and colleges with free access to professionally qualified careers advisers including specialists with expertise in vocational options and with knowledge of entry to elite universities.
  • Stronger statutory guidance and more prominence for career guidance in Ofsted inspections.
  • Linked to their statutory duty, schools and colleges should be required to show that they are meeting their legal responsibilities and to provide pupils, parents and employers with information about the school’s activities in this area.
  • The Department for Education should continue to improve the quality of the destination data that is collects on where students go to after their GCSEs or A-levels.
  • The Government should review the websites and services it supports and develop a strategy to stimulate public-sector and private-sector development of tools that meet schools’ needs.

Conor Ryan, Director of Research at the Sutton Trust, said today: “The overall decline in good guidance is harming social mobility. Having the right advice is key to young people making the right decisions. Those without good networks and family contacts lose out when career guidance is poor. Less advantaged young people must know all their options, whether it is the right apprenticeship, college course or university.

“The Government has asked schools to provide this advice, but they need the right professional support and expertise. Students often want to talk to knowledgeable people about their career options in person as well as online or over the phone. We need good quality guidance for all students, not a postcode lottery of provision that benefits some.”

Professor Tristram Hooley, from the University of Derby, the report’s author said: “These changes have resulted in a major reorganisation of the delivery of career guidance in schools. Unfortunately this has not been monitored in any systematic way, and only limited attempts been made to measure the impacts of the changes. Some schools have maintained high-quality provision and have given high priority to preparing their students for the future, but many have not. We need a much stronger National Careers Service to support schools and colleges in delivering for young people.”

Today’s study follows Sir John Holman’s work for the Gatsby Foundation and a recent National Careers Council report urging improved career guidance. Forthcoming research for Teach First will highlight the need for teachers to have a clearer understanding of what is expected of them in delivering good careers advice.


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 150 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. Advancing Ambitions by Prof Tristram Hooley and Professor Tony Watts (University of Derby) and Dr Jesse Matheson (University of Leicester) is available on the Sutton Trust website here from 0001 Thursday 16th October.
  3. The research is based on a quantitative analysis which compares 820 schools and colleges which hold a quality award in career guidance to all other English secondary schools and colleges using data held by the Department for Education on attainment, attendance and progression. In addition 14 school case studies and six expert interviews were conducted to illuminate what “good guidance” looking like currently in English schools.
  4.  The Gatsby Foundation identified eight characteristics of effective career guidance in its recent report Good Career Guidance:
  •  A stable careers programme.
  • Learning from career and labour market information.
  • Addressing the needs of each pupil.
  • Linking curriculum learning to careers.
  • Encounters with employers and employees.
  • Experiences of workplaces.
  • Encounters with further and higher education.
  • Personal guidance.
  1. Teach First have commissioned research from the International Centre for Guidance Studies analysing global best practice on teachers’ role in developing young people’s employability, which is due to be published later in the autumn. The National Careers Council’s second reporton the Government’s progress in improving the range and quality of careers provision was published on 10th September 2014.


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