This is a transcript of my opening speech from the second reading of my Education (Careers Guidance in Schools) Bill:
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
When my name was first pulled out of the private Members’ Bill ballot, I was presented with a wonderful surprise and a rare opportunity—a chance to take forward real and meaningful change on a matter that is very close to my heart: helping young people to realise their potential. This Bill affords us a genuine opportunity to put words into action by changing the law to extend careers provision in schools.
At present, the statutory duty to provide careers guidance falls on maintained schools, special schools and pupil referral units, but not academies, although many academies do indeed have a contractual obligation to secure independent careers guidance through their own funding agreements. This landmark piece of legislation will seek to address this anomaly by placing the same requirement on all types of state-funded secondary schools, helping to create a much more level playing field. It is also paramount that the advice available to our young people should be consistent, of the highest quality and accessible across the board. The standard of guidance should be based not on a postcode lottery, but on a set of clear principles with the best interests of the children at its heart.
As a father of four, I am acutely aware of the many challenges that children face in school and how difficult it can be to decide on a suitable career path. Choosing a career can be an incredibly daunting experience; I am 39 and I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up. Without the proper guidance, it is easy for young people to find themselves on the wrong path and facing in the wrong direction.
We need early ongoing discussion that involves the young person in a process of continual reorientation, making them aware that they are masters of their own destiny and allowing them to make informed choices at every stage of their journey. This will allow for intervention and advice to prevent them from going too far down a blind alley or a career cul-de-sac, and discovering too late—or certainly not as early as they would ideally like—that they are not where they would like to be. That is why it is so important that we give our young people the best careers advice we can at the very earliest opportunity.
The choices we make at school during this critical early phase help define who we are, what we go on to achieve and ultimately who we become. This legislation is also particularly important and timely given the disruption caused by covid-19. We know that many young people are understandably anxious and uncertain about their education and employment prospects in these unprecedented times. Their ideas about their next steps may well be changing as they respond and adapt to the considerable challenges ahead. We have a saying that the north wind made the Vikings—in other words, adversity can be beneficial if we use it as an opportunity to make us stronger, but even the Vikings would not have got far on their nautical adventures without suitable navigation tools or the right skills. That is why it is so important that young people receive the right advice at the right time to make the right choices for them.
In my constituency of Workington, there are pockets of deprivation and unemployment. As someone who grew up in the heart of northern working-class communities, I am aware of the stark disadvantages faced by so many young people. They have so much to contribute, but often they are written off far too soon. Recognising the existence of a problem is the first step in solving it, and we must close this attainment gap and ensure that no child is left behind. If we are serious about levelling up, giving all children access to careers advice is one of the most important weapons in our arsenal.
Young people need support to understand their options and to act on them. Careers guidance helps them make sense of the labour market and navigate successfully into education, training or employment. Providing this enhanced careers education and guidance makes economic sense, too, because it will contribute to a high-skills, high-productivity recovery. It will support all young people in developing the skills and attributes they need to succeed in the workplace, and in some cases will nurture the community leaders of the future.
The Bill extends careers advice down from year 8 to year 7 to ensure that our children are given the information they need to make the best possible choices. Speaking to the point that my hon. Friend just made, it will bring academies in line with local authority-controlled schools. It will help ensure that everyone has the same opportunity, regardless of their postcode, but it will also give Ofsted the tools it needs to ensure that our children, from across the country, are benefiting from first-rate careers advice throughout their school career.
The Bill will put into statute the Government’s commitments in the “Skills for jobs” White Paper for the UK’s post-pandemic recovery. It will build on the important work already being done nationally under this Government to develop a coherent and well-established careers system. The Careers and Enterprise Company, for example, is increasing young people’s exposure to the world of work.
We also have the National Careers Service, providing free careers information, advice and guidance to young people and adults through a website and telephone helpline. More than 3,300 business professionals from local businesses are working with schools and colleges as enterprise advisers to strengthen employer links. Almost 3.3 million young people are now having regular encounters with employers, which is up 70% in two years. I am grateful to the Careers and Enterprise Company for its engagement with me on this issue and in particular for its recognition that there is much more to do.
Before I go into further detail about how the Bill fits into all of this, I would like to take some time to commend the excellent work already accomplished in my constituency in the face of often large socioeconomic challenges. The Cumbria Careers Hub was launched in January 2019 to deliver the Government’s careers strategy for Cumbria after the local enterprise partnership’s skills investment plan identified a significant challenge regarding developing skills in the county. I am pleased to report that the hub currently includes 37 schools and four colleges and has the ambition to achieve full coverage across 52 institutions in the next academic year.
The Cumbria careers hub is exceeding national performance on careers education across three quarters of the Gatsby benchmarks, most notably regarding employer encounters and experiences of the workplace. It also exceeds the national careers hub average. The process is accelerating, with 100% of schools in the hub matched with an enterprise adviser from a pool of senior business volunteers.
The process is being replicated successfully across the country, with 45% of secondary schools and colleges now in careers hubs. We are also seeing rapid improvements, with hubs in disadvantaged areas among the best performers. Careers leaders’ roles have been developed in schools and colleges and are becoming a recognised profession.
By October 2021, 1,950 careers leaders will receive a fully funded training bursary, and 2,750 will benefit from a free online careers leader training course. The link between careers and career pathways is essential for the development and attraction of talent to Cumbria owing to the area’s declining working-age population. It is therefore critical that we nurture home-grown talent, giving our young people the skills and confidence that they need to make the most of opportunities in a global Britain. This will help close the skills gap in areas such as Cumbria and attract investment.
However, it is not simply enough to nurture talent; we must also retain it. This new Bill will help to ensure that young people are aware of the opportunities that lie on their own doorstep, as well as those that exist further afield.
Cumbria is lucky enough to have an award-winning enterprise adviser, Roger Wilson, enterprise adviser of the year 2018, who works closely with the Careers and Enterprise Company to provide support to the Enterprise Adviser Network. I am delighted that Cumbria careers hub also celebrated two careers champion winners this year—Beacon Hill for innovation and its now former headteacher Judith Schafer for leading the way.
I will also take the opportunity to mention Step Up Cumbria, which was launched to support year 11s to make a transition into further education in response to the challenges of covid-19. It was relaunched with a new website in April 2021, an online platform developed primarily for year 11 school leavers to find information on further education opportunities in Cumbria. The programme has now been updated in recognition that the covid-19 pandemic has been a particularly challenging time for students, especially for those leaving school this summer and looking to begin the next chapter of their education and career journey. The programme itself was established by the Cumbria LEP’s people, employment and skills strategy group and sponsored by the Cumbria careers hub, with learning resources provided by Lakes College in my own constituency, Carlisle College, Furness College and Kendal College.
It may be helpful if at this juncture I set out in a bit more detail what the Bill does and why it is so important. Maintained schools, special schools and pupil referral units now have a statutory duty to secure independent careers guidance for year 8 to year 13 pupils. For pupils of compulsory school age, this must include information on 16-to-18 education and training options, including apprenticeships. This is a good starting point, but it needs to go further. Therefore, this Bill will extend the duty to all pupils in all state-funded secondary education. It will establish consistency across education settings by extending the statutory duty to academy schools and alternative provision academies.
Moreover, all academy schools and alternative provision academies will also be required to have regard to the statutory guidance that underpins this legal obligation. This simplifies the current system, whereby careers duties are imposed on secondary schools through a combination of statutory provisions and contractual arrangements, while some of the older academies are not under any careers requirement whatsoever. The Bill will extend the statutory careers duty to all academy schools and alternative provision academies, placing the same requirements and standards on all types of state-funded secondary school.
These legislative changes will put all pupils in all secondary schools on the same footing. Having spoken with a broad cross-section of education leaders and careers advisers, as well as parents and other stakeholders, I feel that the importance of extending the careers duty to all secondary pupils cannot be overstated. We need to start setting out to children as early as possible the options that will be available to them—not just sixth form and university, but further education, apprenticeships, T-levels and other technical education qualifications. The earlier our young people start to consider these options and receive the appropriate guidance, the greater their chance of making the best possible choice.
University technical colleges form an incredibly important part of our offer, but that could mean changing schools at age 14. We must do more to open up this option to all of our young people, and I pay tribute to colleagues in this House and in the other place, such as the right hon. Lord Baker of Dorking, who works tirelessly in this field.
While it is important that young people are aware of their options, the last thing we want is for them to get to year 9 and feel that their options are being imposed upon them. Young people often tell us that one of the biggest barriers is not knowing what careers exist. Engaging with employers from an early age can inspire young people. It can also help them relate the career opportunities available to their circumstances, abilities and interests.
The legislation recognises and makes use of the work already undertaken as part of the national careers system. But, more importantly, it continues to raise young people’s aspirations through regular and meaningful engagement with employers and their workplaces. The legislation will build on work to promote access to all pathways from education through encounters with education and training providers, and access to high-quality careers and labour market information. I look forward to seeing the legislation pass through this House, but I am even more interested to see how it will help future generations on their own journey to fulfilling their unique potential.
Parliamentary procedure got the better of me, but I did intend to make some further remarks by way of wind-ups:
I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this discussion today, in particular the Honourable Member for Strangford who highlighted his commitment to education by regaling us with tales of rushing back from his honeymoon for a school governors meeting, and the Right Honourable Member for Tatton who set out her extensive commitment to fitting round pegs in round holes through her charitable efforts.
I am grateful to the Minister for her significant support, and allowing the same of her department. And I thank the shadow minister and his colleagues on the shadow front bench for their engagement and support. I also thank my Honourable Friend the Member for Castle Point for her guidance and support in the arrangements for today, and I am grateful to members on all sides of the house who have engaged with this bill positively, and with the wider discussion on careers guidance.
This input has been invaluable. It has helped me to understand how we can better serve our young people - whether by raising their aspirations, by providing direction, or by helping them to recognise their own latent talents.
I would also like to thank teachers, careers leaders and head teachers, such as Mr Bird, Mrs Kennedy, Mr Tromans and Miss Tingle who have taken the time to share with me their own ideas for this vitally-important piece of legislation. Their expertise and knowledge have been critical in helping to shape this landmark Bill as it makes progress through the House.
I would also like to take the opportunity to send my best wishes to Dr Petrie, formerly of Cockermouth School, as he embarks on his new career with Ofsted.
I would ask every Member and every supporter to work with me to get these much-needed changes over the line.
A better future is possible for our young people with improved access to the right support and guidance.
It was Benjamin Disraeli who said: “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own” – and I think this Bill is very much true to the spirit of these words.
You can read the full debate in Hansard.