Over a third of secondary school pupils unsure about future options

More than a third of of secondary school pupils don’t feel confident in taking their next steps in education and training, according to new research by the Sutton Trust.

Previous research by the charity highlighted a postcode lottery of careers advice across the country. Since then, the government has set targets for schools built on the Gatsby benchmarks for good careers guidance and established the Careers and Enterprise Company.

Todays’ report finds that while progress has been made, there is still variation across schools, with the research identifying gaps between state schools with more and less deprived intakes, and between state and private schools.

Teachers and pupils were asked about the careers activities on offer at their school, including sessions with careers advisers, employer talks and trips to careers fairs. However, 36 per cent of students said that they had not taken part in any of the activities listed, with state school pupils more likely to say this as those in private schools (38 per cent vs 23 per cent).

Schools in more deprived areas are also less likely to have access to a specialist careers adviser, with 21 per cent of teachers in the most deprived areas reporting non-specialists delivered personal guidance, compared to 14 per cent in more affluent areas.

Today’s research also highlights differences in guidance given to students on academic and technical routes. Nearly half of 17- and 18-year olds say they have received a ‘large amount’ of information on university routes during their education, compared to just 10 per cent who say the same for apprenticeships.

The new report highlights the importance of young people having interactions with employers throughout their education. Work experience placements are a key part of this and offer young people important insights into the world of work. Despite this, less than a third of 17- and 18-year-olds (Year 13) have completed work experience. The Trust is recommending that all pupils have access to work experience between the ages of 14 and 16.

Today’s report also looks at the barriers to offering high quality careers provision across schools. Almost a third of teachers in state schools report they don’t have enough funding to deliver good quality careers education and guidance, compared to just 6 per cent in private schools. Around half (51 per cent) of teachers in state schools think there isn’t enough staff time to do so, compared to just over a third in private schools.

COVID-19 has also had an impact on careers provision. 72 per cent of teachers think the pandemic has negatively impacted their school’s ability to deliver careers education and guidance. Teachers in state schools were more likely to report this than teachers in private schools.

As the qualification landscape continues to shift with the recent introduction of T Levels, and further changes expected over the coming years through the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, it is more important than ever that all young people have access to the information and guidance they need to progress into further study or work.

The government’s previous careers strategy set out in 2017 has now lapsed, the Sutton Trust is urging the government develop a new strategy, with cross-departmental links to join up the system and integrate with the government’s broader Levelling Up programme.

To further improve careers provision across schools, today’s report makes a number of recommendations:

  • Every young person should have access to a professional careers adviser and a set minimum number of interactions with employers, including work experience.
  • Students should receive more information on apprenticeship options, with better enforcement of the Baker Clause, requiring schools to give information on a range of pathways.
  • More time should be earmarked in the curriculum to deliver careers education and guidance.

James Turner, Chief Executive of the Sutton Trust, said: “All young people – whatever school they go to and wherever they live in the country – must have access to high-quality support to help them in their journeys through education and work.

“As the government looks to make further changes to the qualifications and funding landscape, it is more important than ever that young people have the information, advice and guidance that they need to feel confident in their next steps.

“The government must urgently develop a new national strategy on careers education and all schools, especially those serving the poorest communities, should be supported to offer the highest-quality provision”.