The Education (Careers Guidance in Schools) Bill is a private member’s bill sponsored in the House of Lords by Lord Lucas (Conservative). It was introduced in the House of Commons by Mark Jenkinson (Conservative MP for Workington) and completed its House of Commons stages on 14 January 2022. The bill has received support from both the Government and Opposition. The Department for Education has provided the explanatory notes for the bill.

What are the current careers guidance requirements in schools?

At present, there is a statutory duty (under section 42A of the Education Act 1997) on secondary schools to secure independent careers guidance for students from the year in which many students reach the age of 13 until the end of the school year in which the majority of students reach the age of 18. This equates to the school years 8 to 13. Guidance must include information on education and training options for 16- to 18-year-olds, such as apprenticeships.

The statutory duty currently places such requirements on maintained schools, special schools and pupil referral units. However, it does not place a requirement on academies. Despite this, the Government notes that many academies will have a contractual duty through their funding agreements to secure independent careers guidance.

Gatsby benchmarks

Careers statutory guidance is currently structured around what schools should do to meet the ‘Gatsby benchmarks’.

In 2017, the Department for Education published its careers strategy, which adopted benchmarks on good careers guidance developed by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The guidance comprises eight benchmarks to improve careers provision in schools. Benchmarks include schools creating a “stable” careers programme and linking curriculum learning to careers.

In September 2019, the Government stated that it expected all schools to work towards meeting all eight benchmarks by the end of 2020. This included requiring all young people to have a careers interview by the age of 16, with an additional interview by age 18.

The ‘Baker clause’

In 2018, legislation requiring state secondary schools to provide access to information about technical education qualifications and apprenticeships came into force. The ‘Baker clause’—named after Lord Baker, the member who introduced the measure as amendment during the passage of the Technical and Further Education Act 2017­—specified that schools must provide students in years 8 to 13 with access to information from colleges and training providers about these options.

In January 2019, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a report examining compliance with the Baker clause in schools. The IPPR found that compliance had been “very poor”, with 37.6% of the 101 schools it had examined complying with the clause only by publishing a provider access statement.

In a House of Lords debate on vocational education and training in October 2019, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education, Lord Agnew of Oulton, said that he accepted that “not enough schools have taken it [the requirement] seriously enough” and that the Government would be “taking a tougher approach with them”. Despite this, he also stated that compliance with the clause was improving:

We surveyed a number of schools recently and 76% stated that the duty is being partially complied with. A further review this summer found that compliance, although patchy, is improving.

Skills for Jobs white paper

The Government published its Skills for Jobs white paper on further education in January 2021. The white paper included proposals for careers advice, such as enforcing the Baker clause by requiring schools to inform its students about technical and vocational careers. It would do this through:

  • a new minimum requirement about which careers providers are to be given access to which students and when;
  • tougher formal action against non-compliance; and
  • government-funded careers support for schools to be made conditional on Baker clause compliance.

Additionally, the Government pledged to lower the age range of the duty on schools to provide independent careers guidance to students in year 7 and publish updated guidance setting out what it expected for secondary schools (as statutory guidance) and colleges (as a requirement for funding).

What would the bill do?

The bill would seek to extend the duty to provide careers guidance in schools in England to students in year 7. It would also seek to extend the duty to all academy schools and alternative provision academies. It comprises three clauses.

Clause 1 of the bill would seek to extend the duty to provide careers guidance in secondary education in all types of state-funded schools. The clause consists of six subsections:

  • Subsections (1) and (2) of clause 1 would extend the duty to provide careers guidance to students throughout their secondary education. At present, there is no obligation for students to receive careers guidance until they are in year 8.
  • Subsection (3) would extend the duty to all academy schools and alternative provision academies. Subsection (4) names the proprietors of those schools as “responsible authorities”. This would require academies to ensure that its students are provided with independent careers guidance, including options in respect of 16–18 education or training, such as apprenticeships.
  • Subsection (5) would provide that the duty to include information on 16–18 education or training options would not apply to students over compulsory school age.
  • Subsections (6) and (7) would remove age definitions and references to students’ classes in sections 42A(6) and 42A(7) of the Education Act 1997.

Clause 2 would make consequential amendments. This includes revoking the Careers Guidance in Schools Regulations 2013, which currently extends career guidance obligations to students aged between 13 and 18.

Lastly, clause 3 would provide that the bill be extended to England and Wales (although it would only apply in England as education is devolved). It also states that the bill would come into force on a date set by the secretary of state in regulations. The explanatory notes for the bill details that this is intended to be 1 September 2022.

What happened in the House of Commons?

The bill was first introduced in the House of Commons on 16 June 2021 by Mark Jenkinson (Conservative MP for Workington).

Second reading

The bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on 10 September 2021.

Opening the debate, Mark Jenkinson said that the bill would place the “same requirement” for careers guidance on all types of state-funded schools, which would “[help] create a much more level playing field”. Additionally, Mr Jenkinson stated that it would extend careers advice down from year 8 to year 7 to “ensure that our children are given the information they need to make the best possible choices”. Lastly, he said that the bill would “put into statute” the Government’s commitments detailed in the Skills for Jobs white paper on further education, published in January 2021.

During second reading, the bill was supported by the Government and Opposition. The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Education, Gillian Keegan, stated that the bill would “play a key part in levelling up opportunity, ensuring that high-quality careers advice is available for all”. Similarly, the then Shadow Minister for Schools, Peter Kyle, described the bill as “an important step, but it is a first step” in putting careers education at the heart of the Government’s school programme.

Remaining stages

No amendments to the bill were considered during the public bill committee debate on 27 October 2021.

Report stage took place on 14 January 2022. Sir Christopher Chope (Conservative MP for Christchurch) moved an amendment to clause 1 of the bill which would have amended section 42A of the Education Act 1997. Section 42A(4)(c) of the 1997 act requires responsible authorities to secure careers guidance “that the person giving it considers will promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given”. Sir Christopher’s amendment would have removed the words “the person giving it considers”.

Sir Christopher argued that the existing wording on the delivery of careers guidance was a “subjective” test on the part of the provider and that his amendment would make it an “objective” one.

Mark Jenkinson and Alex Burghart, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Education, spoke against the amendment. Mr Jenkinson said that extending the duty and putting all state-funded schools “on the same footing”, would give Ofsted “the teeth” it needed to “apply statutory guidance and the Gatsby benchmarks to a level playing field”. Additionally, Mr Burghart stated that the amendment would seek to “take away the responsibility for determining the best interests of the pupil from the person who gives the careers guidance to students”, instead, placing that responsibility on schools. Therefore, he argued that a careers advisor “determines the pupil’s best interest by applying their own judgment” and that schools “must secure careers guidance that is independent of the school”.

Following debate on the amendment, it was withdrawn. The bill passed report stage without amendment.

Third reading of the bill followed immediately after report stage. During third reading, Mark Jenkinson thanked those who had “worked on the bill and helped to shape it”. This included teachers and careers advisers who had “taken the time to share […] their ideas for this important bill”.

The bill was passed without division to the House of Lords. It had its first reading in the House on 17 January 2022.

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Cover image by AbsolutVision on Pixabay.

Updated to include the date of the second reading debate.