The careers guidance and work experience on offer to school and college students in Lancashire must not be reliant on future government funding decisions, one of the county’s leading headteachers has said.
Amanda Melton, principal of Nelson and Colne College, told a meeting of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership's skills panel – which she chairs – that “alarm bells” had begun to ring about Whitehall’s commitment to the organisation which funds some of the county’s careers activity.
The Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC), which is financed only up until August 2020, supports different areas of England in their attempts to meet a series of gold-standard benchmarks for careers provision.
In Lancashire, the focus has been on ensuring that all secondary school and sixth form pupils have at least one face-to-face encounter with an employer every year between the ages of 11 and 18 – and that one of those meetings is in the workplace.
But Ms Melton said that she had heard “disparaging” remarks about the CEC by a Department for Education official.
“I would hate our success with this agenda to be linked to something which isn’t necessarily very popular in senior circles.
“As a board, we want sustainability, so we can’t just be dangling by somebody else’s thread – we value [the work], want to sustain it and need to make sure we find the funding to do so,” she said.
The county has used its CEC funding, introduced in 2016, to establish an enterprise adviser network (EAN) which has seen 120 volunteer business leaders partnered with schools and colleges to provide their annual employer encounters – one of the most widespread networks in the country.
Meanwhile, a separate careers hub has been established with 30 schools in Blackpool, Burnley and Pendle, providing more personalised guidance to pupils in areas deemed to need more support.
The skills panel heard that feedback from pupils at Blackpool Sixth Form College showed that students wanted as many opportunities as possible to meet with employers.
“It has helped them make decisions about careers they thought they wanted to pursue, but [which], after the range of encounters they experienced, realised wasn’t for them,” said Kay Vaughan, Lancashire careers hub lead.
“They then picked up another experience which helped to inform their choices.
“One young man wanted to go into motor vehicle engineering and then, after a fantastic internship with a legal firm, now wants to do law. He said, ‘If I couldn’t have seen it, I couldn’t have been it.’”
Members were told that there was some optimism that the CEC funding could be extended until August 2021, but that the timeframe fell short of the three-year commitment for which Lancashire was hoping.
“We need to make sure that [we are] aligned to [the careers] that we need people to get into in the future,” Ms Melton said.
“It needs to align with the economy, but also with [their] individual ambition.”
Proportion of Lancashire 11-18-year-olds receiving a “meaningful encounter” with an employee each year (August 2019):
76 per cent (EAN areas – all of Lancashire, minus Careers Hub locations)
90 per cent (Careers Hub – Blackpool, Burnley and Pendle)
Proportion of Lancashire 11-18-year-olds for whom at least one of those employee encounters is in the workplace (August 2019):
59 per cent – (EAN areas – all of Lancashire, minus Careers Hub locations)
74 per cent (Careers Hub – Blackpool, Burley and Pendle)