It is reported that Labour’s independent skills taskforce has concluded that making schools more directly responsible for pupil destination outcomes is the best way of reducing young people who are ‘neet’ (not in education, employment or training).
This has some commonality with one of the recommendations in my recent Demos report on apprenticeships: reform the Ofsted assessment system for schools to give some weight to the number and quality of apprenticeship places secured by schools for their pupils – creating ‘skin in the game’ for schools in the careers of their pupils.
The skills taskforce is right to expect neets to inevitably struggle to find careers. It is correct too to place a heavy responsibility upon schools to prevent this outcome. Whether the stick of a reduced budget is the right incentive to get schools to best act on this responsibility is another debate.
Set the reduction in funding too high and the school is at risk of lacking the resources that it requires to properly teach. Set it too low and the incentive that the school faces to prevent their pupils becoming neet is too weak to take effect.
Rather than seeking to perfectly calibrate this delicate balance, the carrot of a superior Ofsted assessment might be used instead of the stick of reduced funding. My Demos report came to this view, having understood quite how badly careers services now seem to be letting down pupils. More than 90 per cent of the apprentices surveyed by Demos indicated that their school did not provide them with support to secure their apprenticeship.
My report argues that schools would be more likely to provide this support if increased transitions from school to apprenticeships resulted in improved Ofsted ratings. Equally, returning to the concern of the skills taskforce, this Ofsted rating might be adversely impacted by an increasing proportion of neets among school graduates.
Whether we integrate apprenticeship or neet outcomes into Ofsted ratings, or perhaps both or even some composite indicator covering a range of possible post-school outcomes, what would be involved is moving to a world where we assess schools in terms of the end goals of pupils. The fabled five GCSEs at A to C are valuable but have only ever really been a passport to the goal of a decent career.
GCSEs are outputs, not outcomes, and both my recommendation and the skills taskforce seek to raise the sights of schools to outcomes. We are also united in recognising that the careers service often now acts to frustrate, rather than facilitate, these outcomes.
Apprentices told me that they felt their school poorly understood these qualifications, especially when compared with the trajectory of university, which teachers, themselves usually university graduates, often seem to hold in higher esteem. Labour says that we want to do more for those not destined for university, which suggests that these school experiences should be an urgent focus for change. Similarly, the taskforce advocates a new national framework for information, advice and guidance in schools brokered by LEPs based on the needs of the local labour market.
Future First is campaigning and working for every state secondary school and college to be supported by a thriving, engaged alumni community that helps each one to do more for its students. Labour has been in various minds about LEPs during this parliament but if LEPs can bring about a careers service closer to the alumni model of Future First, then they will have performed a valuable service. Diligent use of carrots and sticks should be used to encourage schools to help bring this about.
Jonathan Todd is chief economist of Demos a contributing editor to Progress. He tweets @Jonathan_Todd
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