Writing in the Guardian, Tristram Hooley says Michael Gove’s bizarre attack on careers advisers in front of the education select committee on Wednesday was a damaging self-parody…
…Careers advice in schools has been in sharp decline since the last election. I’ve written about it before for the Guardian in relation to both career guidance and career education. In short the story is that funding has been removed from the advice and guidance service (Connexions) as well as programmes to widen participation in higher education (Aimhigher) and a poorly defined responsibility has been given to schools in this area.
The education select committee ran an inquiry into careers which expressed “concerns about the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people”. While a recent review by Ofsted concluded that “the new statutory duty for schools to provide careers guidance is not working well enough”. Given this, it might be expected that Gove would have some explaining to do.
In fact, Wednesday’s appearance was Gove’s first public statement on the subject of career guidance. His responses started out in fairly bland politician format, arguing that career guidance was worse under the last government and that he had removed bureaucracy from schools. Under pressure, however, we started to see a bit more of what he actually thinks about career guidance.
The argument that he made had a number of prongs. He seemed to fear that career guidance might encourage more young people to take vocational options rather than academic A-levels. Beyond this, he disparaged the idea that career guidance could be a professional activity, arguing that it would be much better if advice was solely given by employers who were invited into schools. Finally he made the point that career guidance has never worked in the UK or anywhere else in the world.
His statements about the evidence base for career guidance are staggeringly ignorant. There is a vast range of research that exists in this area across numerous academic journals and reports. If we were to set Michael Gove some homework we might perhaps start him with the OECD international review of career guidance which describes how career guidance can support the effective operation of the education system and the smooth functioning of the labour market as well as wider policy goals around social mobility and social inclusion. These should be things that the education secretary is concerned with.
All of Gove’s criticisms were wrapped up in rhetoric about the supposedly “self-interested” careers lobby who “lack intellectual rigour” and talk “garbage”. Conjuring up the spectre of an all-powerful shadowy careers lobby had the effect of tipping the whole performance into self-parody.
In short, Gove didn’t have a good day. He argued against professionalism and against vocational education, bypassed the evidence in the area and made some wild accusations. However, ultimately politician’s gaffs are not what matters. What really matters in this area is that a generation of young people are going through the education system without any opportunity to consider how their learning might fit into their future lives. This is bad for all young people, but it is particularly bad for those who do not have access to financial and social capital to help smooth their way and ameliorate their mistakes. We run the risk that the education system Gove is building will simply serve to entrench privilege and reduce social mobility.
Tristram Hooley is a reader in career development at the University of Derby.
Is Tristram Hooley right? Are professional careers advisers an important part of effective employment or is Michael Gove correct in suggesting a better result will be achieved by inviting more employers into schools? Please share in the comments or on twitter…