School receptionists 'giving careers advice', MPs warn
Secondary schools in England are using teaching assistants and receptionists to give pupils careers advice, MPs have warned.
The warning came as members of the Commons Education Committee questioned Education Secretary Nicky Morgan over a lack of adequate advice for youngsters.
The MPs said the minister's failure to have mandatory standards for careers advice was to blame for poor provision.
Schools must secure independent careers guidance for secondary pupils.
But the quality and suitability of this provision has been a cause of concern for some time.
Interviewing Ms Morgan on Wednesday about careers provision for young people, the cross-party committee of MPs said the current situation was not working.
Labour MP Alex Cunningham said research by the union, Unison, in June found 83% of schools did not employ any professional careers adviser and the role was being picked up by people "including, in many cases, teaching assistants and other support staff who are totally ill-equipped to do that".
"Are you saying today [...] that every school should in fact have some form of support for professional careers advisers?"
Ms Morgan said: "I'm not going to mandate, no. But I think it's up to schools to commission, they will have people in and I would disagree with you that people are utterly ill-equipped within schools - some may be more confident than others."
Committee chair Graham Stuart interjected to say he was aware of a university technical college that was training its receptionist to be a careers adviser within their school "while running reception, fitting it in".
"Now that's because you're not mandating any standards whatsoever - that's the standard," said Mr Stuart.
"And if you accept the lack of an incentive for them to take it seriously [...], then look at the failure to mandate any standards, and you end up with the receptionist and the teaching assistant fitting in a little bit here and there - and apparently that fulfils the duty."
Ms Morgan said it was for schools to make their own decisions about the "right people" to get in to offer advice.
She admitted careers advice was patchy in some areas, but said the schools she visited were very concerned about what happened to their pupils once they left.
To which Mr Stuart replied: "Well they're hardly going to say they're not, are they?"
He went on: "No-one's going to say I put the institutional interests of my school ahead of my moral commitment to children's welfare. [...]
"If you don't, and the department doesn't, see the fundamental problem at the heart of this issue, then everything else will end up being cosmetic."
Responsibility for providing careers services was switched to schools in September 2012 - a decision that has been described by the committee previously as "regrettable".
The National Careers Service was launched at the same time to offer guidance by website and phone - however, it does not provide young people with face-to-face advisers.
In December, Ms Morgan announced the creation of a new independent careers and enterprise company for schools to target careers education and advice at children aged 12 to 18.
She was questioned by the MPs as to how quickly this company would take to address the current problems.
"I'm not going to make predictions, it's an independent company," she replied.
Two years ago, the same committee of MPs warned of a "worrying deterioration" of careers services for young people in England.
In September last year, a report from the National Careers Council highlighted a lack of consistency and availability in provision.
And in June, the CBI said careers advice was on "life support" in many schools in England, with teenagers having little knowledge of the workplace.
The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has also expressed concerns over a paucity of good careers advice.
In September 2013, Ofsted found the majority of schools needed to do more to ensure their pupils had information on the full range of training and education options and career pathways open to them.