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The chair of the education select committee has laid into the Careers and Enterprise Company for believing it has a “magic money tree” growing in its garden.
Robert Halfon (pictured) offered the heavy criticism during an event about the future of careers guidance in Parliament this morning.
It followed the organisation’s second hearing with MPs two weeks ago, in which it was the revealed the company spent more than £200,000 on two conferences using its own public money instead of private sponsorship.
The company had also told MPs earlier in the year that it has spent £900,000 on research, with another projected £200,000 a year to come.
Mr Halfon, who’s also a former skills minister, said today that this was an “obscene waste of money” and a “scandalous lack of oversight”
“My colleagues and I in the education select committee are deeply concerned by what we have learned in two recent hearings,” he said.
“I don’t doubt for a second that the company is passionate about its work, and that there are good people working there. But I’m worried they are not providing us with value for money.
“This body can be ludicrously wasteful. Last year it spent £200,000 of taxpayers in a time austerity on two conferences – money which should have gone to the front-line. One cost around £150,000 and the other was about £50,000 and held at KidZania! Salaries are too high – its CEO earns almost as much as the Prime Minister.
“And it has spent £900,000 on research, with another projected £200,000 a year to come.
“There is a lack of convincing data on its impact. And a lack of data on hard outcomes: like education and training decisions, or employment outcomes.”
The CEC has so far received £40 million in public money to support careers guidance in schools and colleges.
Mr Halfon continued: “It [the CEC] does not always take its own advice. Take mentoring. Its latest accounts suggest it has spent £4 million on mentoring. In one of its own research reports, it says: ‘Few effects can be seen from mentoring relationships that last for less than six months… There is a widespread consensus that a year-long relationship constitutes a quality mentoring interaction.’ And yet several of the programmes it funds fall far short of this.
“There is a scandalous lack of oversight. The National Careers Service is heavily scrutinised. I’m talking the works: Ofsted inspection, mystery shoppers, quality standards, and payment by results linked to customer satisfaction and job/learning outcomes. But the CEC? Nothing evenly remotely comparable.
“Despite this, it has been lavished with new roles, without really demonstrating that it has mastered its initial brief. It is now broker; grant controller; research organisation; designer of careers toolkit; running a fund for disadvantaged pupils; supporting careers hubs. And I’m still not clear why grant-making decisions cannot be made by the DfE.”
Mr Halfon added that the careers offer in England must be “urgently” improved, and suggested doing this by building a “National Skills Service”.
“What do I mean by this? A one-stop-shop under the direction of a single rigorous backbone organisation,” he explained.
“It must devote extra focus to those who have fallen on hard times. It must serve all ages. Provide top-class independent, impartial support from qualified professional advisers, and a clear line of accountability. And, most of all, a better use of money with demonstrably and measurably improved outcomes.”
Responding to the criticism, Claudia Harris, the chief executive of the CEC, said: “Careers education has been underperforming for decades in England, so no one doubts the scale of the task. Our organisation has been in operation for just over three years. In that time Ofsted has found that careers support to young people has improved, noting ‘the current picture is much more encouraging than has been the case in the past… careers guidance within schools is improving’.
We recently published the most comprehensive assessment of careers education to date, which showed that careers education in England is improving across all of the Gatsby Benchmarks. In particular, careers education is stronger in the most disadvantaged communities.
“Two thousands schools are now part of our network, we’ve provided training to nearly 1,400 Careers Leaders, established 20 Careers Hubs across the country and invested millions in front line providers.
“The improvements we have seen have been achieved through hard work and collaboration between schools, colleges and employers and by putting evidence at the heart of careers support. We are proud to have played a part in this improvement, and we welcome any external oversight of our work.”