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The Contribution of Careers Education and Guidance

Marian Morris


A Background Briefing Paper to accompany a talk given at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) Edinburgh 20-23 September 2000



This background paper provides a brief overview of the policy developments and the statutory and structural changes related to careers education and guidance in England and Wales, along with an overview of the findings from the first phase of a research project that was carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) between December 1998 and September 1999. 'The Contribution Of Careers Education and Guidance To School Effectiveness In 'Partnership' Schools'. This study, which was conducted in 30 selected schools across England, was commissioned by the DfEE in order to gain a clearer understanding of the impact that careers education and guidance might have upon the overall effectiveness of schools.


Careers education and guidance(1) occupies a unique place in the educational system in England and Wales, since it was (and is) the only aspect of the curriculum that, historically, has been provided primarily by an external body, the Careers Service. Established in the 1960s under local authority control, careers services worked alongside schools to develop young people's careers-related skills(2) and to promote appropriate transitions at 16(3). Yet, within the last decade, there have been significant shifts in the statutory, structural and curriculum importance accorded the provision of careers education and guidance. In recent years, much of Government policy in the UK has focused on promoting post-16 participation, reducing drop-out and addressing the needs of young people in danger of becoming disaffected or disengaged from education at an early stage(4). In this they are not alone: the changing educational and employment structures and the lengthening and more fragmentary transitions that characterise member states(5) have prompted such action right across the European Union. However, the implementation of these initiatives in the UK has also highlighted the need to raise educational standards, improve the support mechanisms for young people and bring about greater coherence in provision.


Following the Trades Union and Employment Reform Act (TURER) in 1993(6), new contractual arrangements with the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) and the then Welsh Office (WO)(7) meant that careers services became independent companies with a statutory obligation to provide careers guidance services to all young people, aged between 16 and 21 and not in higher education (there was no upper age limit for those with special needs)(8). Subsequently, in 1994(9), that obligation was extended to include young people from age 13, the stage at which young people in the UK make their choice of examination subjects(10) for study in upper secondary education(11). In 1994, additional DfEE funds were also made available, under a designated Careers Library Initiative, to improve and augment the provision of careers information and computer assisted guidance in schools.

At a national level, therefore, significant efforts were being made to enhance careers education and guidance provision. However, while the careers services were under a statutory obligation to provide guidance, it was not until the Education Act of 1997(12) that state maintained schools were similarly obliged to provide a minimum programme of careers education and to ensure that young people, from age 13, had access to impartial careers information(13). Moreover, most schools tended, not surprisingly, to focus their attention on promoting attainment in the core and foundation subjects that make up the English National Curriculum, not least because of strong national and local emphases on school performance tables(14). The current Government, in its Excellence in Schools White Paper in 1997, identified aspects of careers education and guidance as a significant element of government strategy in promoting higher educational standards and more effective schools. Yet, as recently as 1999, research findings still suggested, for example, that 'Curriculum pressures and timetable constraints appear to have militated against any real increase in status for careers education and guidance, despite new legislation...'(15)

Towards the end of the 1990s, therefore, careers education and guidance in England and Wales was founded on universal entitlement, but was characterised by highly variable practice. This notion of universal entitlement was called further into question following the introduction, in 1998/99, of the so-called 'refocusing agenda' for careers services. The growing emphasis on social inclusion, which has characterised much of recent English policy development(16), led to a variation in the contractual arrangements for careers services such that they are expected to focus their work on young people deemed to be 'most in need'(17). This means that careers service support to schools (through linked careers advisers) is often targeted towards sub-sets of students rather than whole cohorts(18) and, as a result, has meant that schools have been called on to play a far greater role in the provision of both careers education and careers guidance.

A further development of this emphasis emerged with the launch of the Government's Connexions strategy in February 2000(19). This was introduced in a bid to overcome the wider structural weaknesses in the current support systems for young people that had been identified by researchers and policy makers(20). The strategy was presaged in the White Paper, Learning to Succeed (1999), in which the DfEE acknowledged that the lack of appropriate support for young people might contribute to their failure to reach their potential. Existing mechanisms for supporting, advising and guiding young people were described as 'patchy'; while systems for funding, planning and quality control were said to be 'complex, inconsistent and confusing'(21). As part of the strategy, the new Connexions Service, designed to support all 13-19 year olds through their teenage years and into adult life, is currently being piloted(22). This service, which acknowledges the need for careers education and guidance, is nonetheless likely to have a significant impact on the traditional careers service role and on the relationship between schools and careers services.

For schools, supporting the implementation of the strategy and the service poses a significant challenge. On the one hand they charged with pursuing academic excellence for their students. On the other, they are expected to provide much wider support and longer-term careers guidance for their young people - a role that some have seen as incidental to, or even conflicting with, their role in raising academic standards. Is there any indication that in fact these roles could be mutually supportive?


It should be noted at the outset that the work carried out by NFER was not funded as a single, coherent and consecutive piece of work(23). Indeed, much of the research summarised in this paper was policy driven and geared to the needs of a practitioner and policy audience rather than an academic one. Nonetheless, it has led to a clearer conceptualisation of what had previously been a disparate field and has advanced the development of analytical techniques that have facilitated the investigation of significant relationships between external interventions and student outcomes, and between a range of interventions and school improvement.

Prior to the work undertaken at NFER, there was no significant history of detailed measurement of the learning outcomes of careers education and guidance in the UK(24), although there had been a great deal of informed comment and much theoretical discussion with respect to the concepts of 'careers' and 'guidance'(25). Many arguments had been advanced as to the potential and actual role of careers education and guidance, based on economic and educative values and on notions of social justice and citizenship. However, whilst the râtionales were inherently compelling, little objective evidence was available to support them. Nor was there a body of impartial research evidence to endorse the significant national efforts that were being made to enhance careers education and guidance for young people.

The first phase of the research began in the academic year 1994 to 1995, with a project commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) in England and the Welsh Office in Wales. Originally intended to identify the role that was being played by careers services (then in their final year of local authority control in England) in careers education and guidance in schools, it adopted a detailed and progressively focused qualitative approach, drawing on over 1,000 interviews with school and careers service staff, and discussions with young people aged from 15 to 17, parents, employers and training providers. The analysis of this qualitative data led to the identification of some distinctive underlying characteristics of school and careers service interaction and of careers education and guidance provision(27). These characteristics were then used to construct three broad models of interactive practice, those of parallel provision, pyramidal provision and the guidance community or partnership model(28).

In parallel provision, careers education was seen primarily as the province of teachers in school, while guidance took the form of careers service interview that was generally a single event, isolated from the wider school curriculum. This model was characterised by very little interaction or information flow between the key players: the careers adviser, school staff and the young person.

In the pyramidal model, there was a greater flow of information and young people were better prepared for their careers service interview, which was seen as the culmination of the guidance process. However, the outcomes of the interview rarely played any further part in continuing careers education while the student became, effectively, an individual client of the service.

In the final model, the guidance community or partnership model, the provision of careers education and of careers guidance was closely integrated, with careers advisers actively involved in curriculum planning and review and in providing feedback from interviews that informed future curriculum development.

Following the original phase of the research, additional funding was obtained through the DfEE in order to establish whether the 'good practice' that had been observed made any difference to the young people or merely contributed to professional competence and satisfaction. The challenge for the research team was to devise an instrument that could assess the careers-related skills and confidence of the young people and which could provide reliable and relevant outcome variables, even within the confines of self-reporting. The areas upon which the team focused (and which reflected practice in careers education and guidance in the UK at that time) were young people's:

Subsequently, just under 2,000 young people in their final two years of compulsory education (that is, aged 15 and 16) completed a detailed questionnaire. Using multilevel modelling, a development of multiple regression analysis that can handle hierarchical data, the research team tested the hypothesis that young people in guidance community schools would have higher careers-related skills than other students, irrespective of socio-economic, historical and institutional circumstances.

Between 1995 and 1998 the research team at NFER conducted a number of national and local studies that were able to build on and refine the qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis used in the original research project. In particular, they undertook further work to test the validity and reliability of the conceptual framework and the measures of careers-related outcomes devised during the initial project. One complex longitudinal study, for example, which drew on survey data from two cohorts of young people (some 15,000 students in all), and interviews with over 300 teachers and careers advisers(29), found that the link that had been identified in 1995 between a high level of careers-related skills and provision through the guidance community or partnership model, was maintained and, indeed, that there was a faster rate of growth in certain careers-related skills amongst students than was found in other schools. Moreover, those skills (particularly those of careers exploration and the ability to apply self-awareness to decision-making) were the skills that were found to have contributed most to students making effective transitions at 16.


The stimulus for the research upon which the presentation is based was contained within the 1997 White Paper Excellence in Schools. As indicated above, it was in this paper that the government signalled its ongoing interest in school standards - in student outcomes and school effectiveness. More specifically, and for the first time, it also identified aspects of careers education and guidance as a significant element of government strategy in promoting such higher educational standards and more effective schools.

This notion was not without precedence. As indicated above, NFER's research had shown some significant links between the ways in which careers education and guidance was provided in schools and:

the type and quality of young people's careers-related skills (for example, the development of careers exploration and self-awareness skills);

the extent to which young people made satisfactory transitions at 16(30).

But the question remained as to whether the ways in which careers education and guidance was provided could have wider educational implications - did it for example, contribute to raising student motivation and achievement and so contribute to raising overall educational standards? The stated aim for the research was to gain a clearer understanding of the impact that careers education and guidance might have upon the overall effectivenss of schools. More specifically the research sought to explore the link between effective careers education and guidance (particularly within a guidance community context) and:

Key issues for the research were to:

The research adopted a predominantly qualitative methodology, drawing on both interview data and documentation, including information obtained from reports produced by the schools' inspectorate in England (OFSTED). Aggregated quantitative data (on GCSE attainment and student attendance, for example) was also collected from a wide range of sources, including DfEE's School and College Performance Tables and from school's annual Performance and Assessment data reports (PANDA reports) and schools' value-added analyses.

During the spring and summer terms of 1999, a progressive series of interviews (176 in total) was conducted with senior management teams, careers co-ordinators and a range of other teaching staff in 30 schools (selected on the basis of their degree of interaction wth the careers service) in England. These were augmented by interviews with all link careers advisers (consultants) and with a number of external partners (including Local Education Authority personnel, governors and in some cases employers) as well as with discussion groups with 169 students from Year 10.

5. THE RESEARCH FINDINGS (summary)(31)

5.1 The quality of careers education and guidance

During the course of the research it became apparent that there was no universal formula for effective careers education and guidance in schools. Instead, successful provision appeared to be the product of a number of different factors, combining appropriate internal mechanisms, such as systems to support the links between the careers education and guidance programme and the wider school curriculum, and external links (with the careers service, post-16 providers, including employers, and parents) within a clearly understood philosophy.

Schools had variously adopted a range of strategies, using careers education and guidance as:

5.2 The 'Guidance Community' or Partnership Approach

The term 'guidance community' was initially coined to describe a model of interaction, both between schools and careers services and also (perhaps more significantly) within schools, in the provision of careers education and guidance. In effect, guidance community schools operate within a multi-strand partnership between schools' senior managers and teachers and:

All 30 schools in the study were originally identified by their local careers services as having 'guidance community' provision. However, in practice, a full partnership approach was not always apparent. In all, 12 schools demonstrated all (or most) of the characteristics of a guidance community, with a further 12 lacking certain crucial aspects (generally an understanding of the potential role careers education and guidance could play in the wider curriculum). In the case of six schools, there was little real indication of guidance community practice. This should not necessarily be seen as an indication of poor education and guidance programmes. Rather, some of the schools lacked the internal and external linkages, and some of the mechanisms necessary to enable successful partnership practice.

What enabled schools to adopt, or move towards, a guidance community approach? What were the features that acted as levers towards, or barriers against, partnership practice? And what were the gains for the schools? The 12 partnership schools were characterised by strong senior management support for careers education and guidance. In addition, the degree to which guidance community practice became embedded within school practice was dependent largely on the extent to which:

The gains for the schools included:

5.3 Effective Schools

There is now a very large body of literature on school effectiveness and school improvement and there have been numerous attempts to identify and quantify the characteristics (and outcomes) of an effective school(32). Many researchers have taken the view that, whilst academic achievement, usually expressed in terms of 'hard' statistical examination outcomes, is a fundamental part of a school's effectiveness, account also needs to be taken of 'softer' qualitative indicators, including the quality of school leadership, pupil attitudes and the ethos or culture of a school. The research therefore used two different, but complementary, sets of measures to explore school effectiveness. These were:

When the aggregated and contextualised performance data for each school was examined alongside the aggregated qualitative data, it became apparent that 11 of the case-study schools were very effective in terms of:

Others, while not yet necessarily as effective in performance terms, had instituted strategies and practices that should facilitate future progression. The key question for the research, however, was whether there any link between such school effectiveness and a guidance community or partnership approach to careers education and guidance.

5.4 The link Between Careers Education And Guidance And School Effectiveness

At the time the research was conducted, none of the 30 schools in the study combined the profile of a school that was effective with every level of ability, had all of the enabling characteristics of an effective school and had adopted a guidance community approach to careers education. Nonetheless, eight of the 11 most effective schools were guidance communities or had most, if not all, of the characteristics of partnership provision. This implies that there was some association between a guidance community approach and effective schools.

However, the situation is rather more complicated than that. It is possible to identify some impact of careers education and guidance on certain aspects of school effectiveness, including a positive impact on:

It is rather more difficult to make a similar claim for its impact on the wider effectiveness of schools: the link between a guidance community approach and educational standards, as expressed by student attainment, was more difficult to ascertain.

It is worth emphasising, therefore, that adopting a partnership approach to careers education and guidance is not, in itself, sufficient to ensure an effective school. Rather, it may facilitate procedures that, alongside other strategies, may contribute to school effectiveness.


1. The terms, 'careers education' and 'careers guidance', are used here to signify those formal processes and provision which, as defined in Morris et. al. (1995) and again in Looking Forward (SCAA, 1995):

'provide a means of developing individuals' knowledge, understanding and experience of opportunities in education, training and employment and the skills necessary to make informed decisions' (careers education);

'provide a means of helping individuals to apply relevant knowledge, understanding and skills to their own particular circumstances when choices have to be made' (careers guidance).

Note that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) was amalgamated with the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) in 1997 to form the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) (GB. Statutes, 1997, Section 21).

2. The concept of careers-related skills has been subject to much debate in recent years. The approach that was traditionally adopted in England and Wales was that originally defined by Law and Watts in 1977 as the DOTS model, comprising Decision learning, Opportunity awareness, Transition learning and Self awareness. Current guidance materials from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) on learning outcomes focus on self-development; career exploration and career management (QCA, 1999). Most recently, Law (1999), has identified the need to take more account of the social world in which people negotiate their careers, with a greater emphasis on the learning process, progression and the dynamics of career management.

3. Compulsory education in the UK finishes in the June following a young person's 16th birthday. At that point, young people may transfer onto a further education course (in a college of Further Education, a sixth form college or a sixth form in a school), full- or part-time training towards a vocational qualification (through a college of Further Education or Approved Training Organisation and on government or other training schemes) or employment (with or without training). A small but significant, proportion of 16 year olds, estimated at around seven per cent, are not in education, training or employment - the so-called 'status zero' group.

4. These were presaged in the Competitiveness White Papers (see GB. Parliament, HoC, 1994 and 1997). In recent years the strategies have included a range of training schemes, such as Advanced and Intermediate Modern Apprenticeships (previously National Traineeships), and the development of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) or vocationally-related qualifications (General National Vocational Qualifications - GNVQs) as alternative post-16 routes. In response to the Kennedy report (1997), strategies have also been put in place to help schools widen the scope for work-related learning activities for 14 to 16 year olds considered to be at risk of disaffection or disengagement (see GB. Statutory Instruments, 1998).

5. Information from the European Commission (1997a and b) and from OECD (CERI, 1998) suggests that some common trends, a falling youth population and longer and more difficult transitions from education to work are evident in each of the member states of the European Union.

6. GB. Statutes (1993).

7. Some of the functions of the Welsh Office, including provision for education and the Careers Service, have now been taken over by the newly created Welsh Assembly.

8. The statutory client groups for careers service companies now include: young people aged 13 to 16; young people aged over 16 and not in higher education; young people with special educational or training needs up to the age of 24.

9. The Competitiveness White Paper redefined and extended the role of the careers service and gave an entitlement to careers education and guidance for young people aged 11 to 18 (GB. Parliament, HoC, 1994).

10. These examinations are primarily for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). Young people, on average, follow a course of study leading to eight GCSEs. Up to September 1998, the designated core subjects of mathematics, science and English were compulsory and students were also expected to work towards at least one foreign language and one technology GCSE. Since that date, schools have been able to disapply elements of the National Curriculum for selected students aged 15 and 16 (that is, at Key Stage 4). (GB Statutory Instruments, 1998).

11. The term upper secondary education corresponds here to study within ISCED Level 3.

12. GB. Statutes (1997) Sections 43-5.

13. The variety of post -16 institutions in the UK and the range of funding mechanisms used to maintain them, means that schools, sixth form colleges, colleges of further education and approved training organisations, as well as employers, are all in competition for school leavers. Research has shown that, in schools with sixth forms, the level of young people's careers-related skills and awareness tends to be significantly lower than in schools with no provision for young people aged 16 and over.

14. GCSEs are graded from A* (the highest grade) to G. School performance tables, showing, for example, the proportion of students achieving at least 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C, are published annually in England and Wales.

15. Morris et al. (1999b).

16. This emphasis was partly based on reports such as those published by the Social Exclusion Unit (1999)and Howarth et al. (1998) for example, which identified identified complex links between lack of educational achievement and poverty and deprivation. A disproportionate number of young people who fail to make effective post-16 transitions, for instance, come from poor backgrounds in deprived areas, and often face multiple forms of disadvantage. These may include adverse family circumstances, poor attendance at, or exclusion from, school, living in care, drug abuse or criminal activity, homelessness and under-age pregnancy. (See GB. P. HoC. 1999)

17. GB.DfEE. (1998)

18. In practice these students have tended to be the most disaffected or disengaged, although the needs of those who may be most disadvantaged are stressed.

19. GB. DfEE. 2000.

20. See for example, Howarth et al. (1998); GB. P. HoC. SEU. (2000) and National Youth Agency (1999) quoted in: GB. DfEE (2000)

21. GB. DfEE (1999).

22. The Connexions Service is designed to support all 13-19 year olds through their teenage years and in transition to adulthood and working life. It seeks to create a single contact point for young people (their named Personal Adviser -a 'gateway' mechanism initially developed through New Start and its Welsh equivalent, the Youth Access Initiative) through which individual needs can be met 'in an integrated and coherent manner'. In developing a network of such advisers, local partnerships would be expected to draw on a range of support and community agencies and build on practices already developed through existing programmes and the strategies adopted by, for example, careers service personnel and youth workers in addressing the needs of groups such as young people who are disadvantaged or who are disaffected.

23. Much of the work was commissioned by the DfEE and was linked to centrally funded initiatives or policy imperatives. Some individual careers companies or Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) subsequently commissioned NFER to conduct locally-based research that sought to explore or illuminate issues raised at a national level.

24. It should be noted that Watts and Kidd (1978), in an early review of the British literature in this field, alerted researchers to some of the complexities of evaluating the effectiveness of guidance and highlighted the limited nature of outcomes-focused research at that time.

25. The key UK discussants in this field have included Anthony Watts, Bill Law, John Killeen, and Jennifer Kidd, for example.

26. These arguments have been summarised in Morris and Stoney (1997).

27. The five underlying factors that were identified and seen as significant were:

the perceived relationship between educational and guidance aspects of practice;

the division of tasks between careers service and school staff;

the pattern of information flow between the careers service and the school;

the extent of feedback (particularly where it influenced curriculum provision);

the status of the guidance interview in the careers education and guidance programme.

28. Morris et al. (1995).

29. The detailed findings from this study, which was funded in two phases between 1995 and 1999, are reported in Morris et al.(1999a and b). The baseline study (using both qualitative and quantitative methods) was designed to explore the effectiveness of enhanced careers education and guidance provision that was introduced in that year as part of the core contracts for the newly contracted out careers services. Adopting a mixed methodology approach, the follow-up study used qualitative interviews with school and careers service staff to define composite interaction and provision variables that reflected both current school and service circumstances and change over time. Combining these variables with quantitative data obtained from four different cohorts of students (two cohorts from the 1995/96 baseline study and two cohorts in 1997/98, giving over 15,000 young people from 30 schools) it aimed to assess whether there was:

any change over time in the level of young people's careers-related outcomes since the introduction of enhanced careers education and guidance;

any difference between the careers-related outcomes of students from guidance community schools and other schools;

any difference in the rate of change in careers-related outcomes of students from guidance community schools and other schools;

any apparent relationship between careers-related outcomes for students and specific careers education and guidance activities.

30. See Morris et al. (1999a) and Morris et al. (1999b)

31. The full report for this research (RR198) was published by DfEE in April 2000.

32. See, for example Leithwood et al. 1986, Mortimore et al. 1988, Reynolds and Parker, 1992, Reynolds, 1992, Rutter et al. 1979, Sammons et al. 1995 and Sammons et al. 1996.





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This document was added to the Education-line database on 13 December 2000