Careers advice for young people needs urgent improvement, says Alan Milburn

A disjointed approach to careers advice is failing the region’s young people, Alan Milburn has warned

The Rt. Honourable Alan Milburn
The Rt. Honourable Alan Milburn

A disjointed approach to careers advice is failing the region’s young people, Mr Milburn has warned.

The senior member of Tony Blair’s cabinet in the last Labour Government said careers advice for young people needs urgent improvement in a growing careers market that is crowded, confused and complex.

He made his thoughts known at the ‘Prosperity for All Conference’ hosted by Darlington Partnership last week.

The former Darlington MP drew upon his education at John Marley School, in Newcastle, when a young person’s journey into employment was more straightforward.

“It’s much more complex than it was in my day,” he said.

“The labour market offers so many choices and it’s often overwhelming.

“I went to John Marley in Newcastle and I was a bright kid so I was taken to two places.

“I was taken to Northern Rock Building Society and somewhere called ‘The Ministry’ in Longbenton.

“Every other kid was taken to Vickers or Swan Hunter’s shipyard. It wasn’t right but it was straight forward.

“Nowadays it’s a completely different animal; there’s a range of options and the choices are absolutely endless.”

Research published earlier in the year suggested that many pupils feel that current careers provision within the school environment is irrelevant and often doesn’t keep pace with demand.

The study, conducted by the association of Accounting of Accounting Technicians (AAT), found that 84% of 14-19 year olds would like more advice from their school or college regarding future options.

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary said that while the National Careers Service had been recently extended, there was “more to do in terms of building partnerships between employers and schools.”

However, Mr Milburn was quick to defend careers advisers saying the onus is on everyone to make careers advice work effectively.

“I agree with the argument I hear from a lot career professionals,” he said. “They say you need specialist functions to understand what’s needed for such a level of complexity in the labour market.

“And, I won’t be popular for saying this, but there’s also a responsibility on teachers here.

“In the end we are teaching for a purpose and that’s to ensure there are well-grounded individuals who are able to progress in the world of work.

“Heads and teachers aside from their professional working careers need to focus on that.”

Brought up by his single mother on a council estate in County Durham, Mr Milburn left school with a fistful of A levels that would have got him to Oxbridge.

The former Labour MP, who is now chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, said that all young people – regardless of their social background – should be given advice, opportunities and support to progress to elite universities.

He said: “A recent survey among teachers asked ‘do you think your fellow teachers have the same expectations for every child and encourage them in exactly the same way regardless of background?’

“Thankfully 80% did but perhaps more worryingly, 20% didn’t.

“Every teacher should have high expectations for every child regardless of their background.”

A decade ago, parents were fleeing inner London to avoid sending their children to local schools.

Today, a poor pupil is more likely to perform better in the capital than anywhere else in the country.

Much of this is down to the London Challenge policy of school collaboration which, in the mid-noughties, turned around life chances.

Now, the scheme is seeing a regional roll-out in the form of a North East Schools Challenge.

At its core was a commitment to breaking the link between deprivation and attainment.

That meant zero tolerance of low expectations, smart use of data to track pupil progress, and the strategic use of sponsored academies.

The Challenge was also built around a system of collaboration. It raised the standard of teaching in the classroom by peer-to-peer review; headteachers helped one another turn good schools into outstanding; and it offered a “pupil pledge”, providing young Londoners with access to sport, the arts and university life.

Today, children on free school meals in London do 50% better at GCSEs than their peers elsewhere.

Mr Milburn said the Government’s free-market approach to schooling will not raise attainment across an entire region – but rather a more joined-up way of thinking.

“London saw a big improvement in state education but they didn’t just do it on their own,” he said.

“They worked together; they brought together a bunch of schools from all different backgrounds in a bid to raise aspirations.

“I’m all for schools governing their own destinies but there’s a balance to be achieved between autonomy and collaboration and you have to collaborate to make progress.”

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