By Dr Deirdre Hughes
The introduction of new restrictions set out by the Prime Minster has reminded us all of the serious consequences of further lockdown measures on the British economy and the nation’s health and wellbeing. For those working in hospitality, leisure, theatres, travel and tourism, Covid-19 has ravaged jobs in these sectors.
There are serious concerns that unless there is some form of extension to or replacement of the furlough scheme, tens of thousands of job losses are inevitable. In this context, public pressure to create a fairer and more prosperous society is likely to increase.
This will bring about a paradigm shift in our thinking about schooling and its relevance to a changing world of work, home working and a sharp turn towards protecting jobs, livelihoods, health and wellbeing so often limited by structural inequalities in society.
Addressing widening educational inequalities
A new National Funding Formula for schools should ensure the funding system is more responsive to geographical areas of deprivation. However, a recent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report highlights “in the short run, the new formula will deliver funding increases of 3–4 percentage points less to schools in poorer areas than to those in more affluent areas up to 2021.” Government hopes a one-off payment of £80 per pupil aged 5-16 and a national tutoring programme targeted at more disadvantaged pupils will help address the widening of educational inequalities during lockdown. In this context, what messages will young people, teachers, parents/carers receive about the evolving education and careers landscape?
The launch of T levels
A recent FE News podcast with Minister Keegan highlighted the launch of T levels with discussion on the differences between this route and other pathways, including apprenticeships. I was struck by the reliance on a national campaign the ‘Next Level’ idea which shows students as they literally climb the floors of a building. Their rapid progression will dramatise how T Levels can help young people get further forward, faster – while also highlighting the qualification’s first three launch subjects of education and childcare, digital and construction. But the massive shock of Covid-19 and its effects on education and career opportunities requires more than this. The narrative of climbing upwards fast will need to shift more towards career adaptability, mental toughness, resilience and building a personal ‘safety net’ of support. In essence, having access to good career guidance (including highly skilled coaching techniques) addresses these basic fundamentals.
Career guidance in schools, colleges and local communities must be strengthened
The views and experiences of highly trained and qualified career development professionals in England have been overlooked by DfE, since May 2020 meetings with the professional body and the trade body has been promised but yet to materialise. Last year, a study commissioned by Careers England reported “less than a cup of coffee is being spent on careers advice for young people in our schools and colleges.”
To date, very little of the money the DfE are spending on careers actually goes to the schools and those working with and supporting young people in local communities, particularly those most in need. It is estimated that 1000 extra employment, training or education opportunities are needed each day to bring the number of young people not in education employment or training back to pre-crisis levels by October 2021.
Under the £2billion Kickstart Scheme, the Government will pay towards six months of wage costs of each 16 to 24-year-old hired by an employer. But this approach needs ‘feet on the ground’ (beyond DWP Work Coaches) to work directly with employers advocating on behalf of young people and gathering local labour market intelligence (LMI) to feedback into the education system. Adults too need to know where are the jobs and training opportunities?
The forthcoming FE White Paper should further shed light on the government’s thinking about evolving education and careers for young people and adults – aligned to a refresh of the Careers Strategy (2017). The shock to universities of a diminished international student population and uncertainty surrounding the 2020-2012 local student experience, brings a sharp focus on the availability of careers support, student placements, work experience and internships.
In our higher education landscape, those most privileged often have the best careers support made available to them delivered by highly trained professionals.
So, what’s the massive shock all about?
In essence, we are talking about more individuals in our society being ‘unsettled’ and ‘uprooted’ from the normality of their so far lived experiences and expectations of education and work. At its core is the issue of identity, dignity, livelihood and sense of belonging and fulfilment.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Britain’s were forced to tighten their belts, contend with high inflation and increasing unemployment blighted their horizons. Fast forward fifty years, people’s expectations are higher today and in a modern society it should be an entitlement to have access to high quality careers support as part of a lifelong learning system that supports improved education, economic and social outcomes.
Interestingly, government responses back then saw the wisdom and realised the benefit of investing in careers services for young people to enable work programmes to operate effectively.
Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, DMH Associates & Associate Fellow, University of Warwick IER
 Department of Employment – Careers Services Unemployment Strengthening Scheme.