Ken Reynolds identifies ten hot issues for career advisers contemplating the year ahead. Some focus on developments in England but others apply to the United Kingdom as a whole. Wherever we work, these issues highlight the political significance of our work and challenge us all to be clear about our personal priorities
1. The interim report of the Working Group on 14-19 Reform, chaired by Mike Tomlinson. The report presents radical proposals for a new, unified framework of qualifications in England and an improved system of assessment, in which GCSE and A level examinations will gradually fade, over a ten-year period, into a new four-level diploma.
The interim report contains some encouraging references for career advisers, proposing that in the core curriculum all young people should "develop a range of knowledge, skills and attributes, such as self-awareness, self-management, working with others" and should "undertake personal planning, review and guidance to underpin their programme, consolidate their learning and inform their choices."
Paragraph 22 continues: "To make the most of these opportunities (offered by the new 14-19 curriculum), young people must be prepared with the skills and self-awareness to exercise their choices effectively. They need to be supported by information, advice and guidance services tailored to their particular needs. This means ensuring that teachers, trainers, advisory services and others are provided with the knowledge and training necessary to help young people make choices that are right for them."
Paragraphs 51-53 set out in more detail the importance of support for personal review, planning and guidance and refer to the use of Individual Learning Plans. Doubts are expressed that the current mechanisms for the delivery of advice and guidance are capable of providing a universal entitlement. The Tomlinson group will be considering in the next stage of its work how to resolve these issues, and you are invited to contribute details of anything you consider to be a local or regional model of effective practice.
You can download the interim report from the website at: www.14-19reform.gov.uk and you can email your response to the proposals. Mike Tomlinson will deliver his final report in September 2004.
2. The Higher Education Bill. At the moment, first-degree students in England pay an annual tuition fee (means-tested) of £1125. In 2006 this will increase to £3000 p.a. for many courses, assuming that the present Bill completes its run through Parliament.
Higher Education Institutions will be allowed to increase fees to the new maximum level only if they can demonstrate that they are taking positive action to attract students from lower-income backgrounds. They are accordingly looking to introduce grants, bursaries and scholarships for such students from 2006, particularly those considering science degree courses.
The £3000 fee will apply to students in England but not to those in other parts of the U.K. In Wales and Northern Ireland, students pay £1200 a year, while in Scotland they pay a £2000 'graduate endowment' after their degree.
English students going to a Scottish university in 2006 will pay fees of £1200 a year. Figures published by UCAS of offers of places to universities in the U.K. for the current year show a 7.1% increase of English students accepted by Scottish universities, and a 3.6% decrease of Scottish students accepted at English universities. This is a trend that might continue, although an increase in the Scottish graduate endowment payment could be forthcoming.
3. The Higher Education Admissions Review. The committee chaired by Professor Steven Schwartz, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University, is seeking to guarantee merit and fairness in the HE admissions process. It has already completed an initial consultation of practitioners and is currently undertaking a second stage ahead of its final report in June 2004.
The first-stage report shows strong agreement from respondents that universities and colleges should select students from a wide range of backgrounds. Respondents highlighted the fact that our society is multi - cultural and diverse and that the population of universities and colleges should represent this. It was also noted that all students benefit from exposure to diversity.
There were varied views from respondents as to whether institutions should choose students to achieve a mix. Whilst just under half the respondents agreed they should, there was unease at the concept of "social engineering". It was felt that if a system such as this were adopted there would be cases of deserving students missing out on a place.
The majority of respondents agreed with a system of looking at obstacles an applicant may have encountered. There were however reservations that the system would be difficult to implement. A number of respondents stated that the problems of low achieving schools should not be considered in the same category as illness and family problems.
Respondents generally agreed with looking at educational context in the admissions process. It was thought that some schools offered students more opportunities through better teaching, low staff turnover and so on, which could affect results achieved. Respondents were concerned over how the system would work.
Just over half the respondents agreed to an applicant being offered a place with lower examination results. Some universities stated that they already do this if they wanted to recruit particular students. There was concern that this could be seen as discrimination and theoretically lead to litigation.
The consideration of additional assessment measures was well received and the list of additional measures was felt to be helpful. Respondents were happy with the measures, with over three quarters of respondents agreeing to them all.
Just over half of the respondents were happy with the suggestion of moving to a post qualification application (PQA) system. Many believed that it would make the application system more efficient. Those who did not agree or were unsure voiced their concerns over the disruption that would be needed to the school calendar for the system to operate effectively, and that the administration of the system would be difficult.
There were mixed reactions to the list of possible options to help assess merit and potential. They were in the main well received apart from using GCSE grades more explicitly, additional testing and class rank
You can take read the full report and contribute to the work of the committee via the website at: www.admissions-review.org.uk
4. Gateways into the professions. Sir Alan Langlands, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Dundee, will soon be leading work on a report examining how the public and private sectors and the professions can sustain and improve recruitment opportunities for graduates, especially those students who will not qualify for student support from 2006. Sir Alan will make recommendations on action to provide clear, accessible gateways for graduates wishing to pursue careers in professions such as medicine, teaching, social care, law, engineering and architecture. This work will start as soon as the Higher Education Bill (Number 2 in our list) receives Royal Assent, with the aim of reporting to the Secretary of State by mid 2005.
5. Response to the 'Every Child Matters' Green Paper. Consultation on this document closed at the end of December and new legislation is promised 'at the earliest opportunity'. Already, the Connexions Service appears to have become part of the Children, Young People and Families Directorate within the DfES, although we await clarification of its longer-term position and we trust that rumours of massive cuts are without foundation.
At the same time, the DfES has announced an 'end to end' review of careers education and guidance. The review will focus on the support provided to 11-19 year olds, to help them make learning and career choices for the 14-19 phase of education. An external group of key stakeholders will provide the steering group, with representation from the Secondary Heads Association, National Association of Head Teachers, NACGT, ICG, Guidance Council, the Association of Colleges, a Connexions Partnership, the Learning and Skills Council, an LEA Director of Education and Ofsted.
The review will look at careers education and guidance (CEG) offered in schools, post-16 learning institutions and by the Connexions service. In schools, the review will be of CEG offered both through the careers education programme delivered to all young people in years 9-11 and through the school's pastoral support arrangements - in particular the support offered by the school at the end of key stage 3, to help young people make decisions about learning routes in key stage 4 (and the implications of key stage 4 choices on post-16 destinations). In post-16 learning institutions the review will be of CEG offered to support progression to work, professional training and higher education.
The review will also consider the interaction between the range of support services provided, with a view to assessing the extent to which a coherent package of support is available for all young people.
6. Statutory requirement for work-related learning. State schools in England will be required from September 2004 to make provision for all students at key stage 4 to learn through direct experiences of work (e.g. work experience/part-time jobs, enterprise activities in schools and learning through vocational contexts in subjects); learn about work (e.g. through vocational courses and careers education); learn for work by developing skills for enterprise and employability (e.g. through problem solving activities, work simulations and mock interviews).
You can download two documents detailing the changes from the website at: www.qca.org.uk/ages14-19/238_5802.html
7. Progress File. The National Record of Achievement will be phased out by July 2004 and replaced by the Progress File, a set of guidance and working materials to help young people to record, review and present their achievements, set goals, and make progression in learning and in work.
For more information, visit the website at: www.dfes.gov.uk/progressfile/index.cfm
8. Careers education at key stage 3. It may change again after the 'end to end' review covered in Number 5 above, but it has already been decided that state schools in England will be required from September 2004 to provide careers education in Years 7 and 8.
You can download schemes of work for these year groups from the 'Teaching and Learning' section of the Cegnet website at: www.cegnet.co.uk
9. Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA). Following successful regional pilots, EMA will extend nationally from September, paying up to £30 a week to eligible young people who remain in education beyond the statutory leaving age. EMA entitlement depends on an assessment of household income.
Full details can be obtained from the website at: www.dfes.gov.uk/ema
10. Equal Opportunities. A new single Equality Commission will take the place later this year of the three different bodies currently dealing with equality issues. The Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) will bring together the work of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission. Look out for a White Paper in the next couple of months.
We hope that the CEHR will bring a new dynamism to this difficult area. After nearly 30 years, for example, of Equal Pay legislation, women working full time in the UK still earn £559 per month on average less than men. If you wish to provoke debate on this subject, you can order free 'Time to get even' resources from the Equal Opportunities Commission website at: www.eoc.org.uk
To find out how higher education institutions are coping with recent changes in the law, such as the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, visit the Equality Challenge Unit website at: www.ecu.ac.uk