by Dick Evans, Principal, Stockport College of Further and Higher Education.
Guidance must now be one of the most important processes in post-16 education and training. Following incorporation, colleges in the new FE sector must develop comprehensive and effective guidance systems in order to open up access, increase participation, improve retention and play a part in realising the National Education and Training Targets. For too long guidance has been treated as as a marginal bolt-on activity and must now be truly integrated into the whole range of provision of post-16 education and training. It must become central at entry, on-programme and exit stages of provision. A number of recent publications will greatly assist the strategies for this essential development.
Late last year the Association of Principals of Colleges (APC) and the Institute of Careers Guidance (ICG) published a joint statement on Careers Guidance in Further Education (FE) which proposed a shared framework for the delivery of careers guidance through a partnership between colleges and careers services. The statement entitled ‘Careers Guidance in FE in Great Britain is an excellent and timely contribution to this very important topic. The APC/ICG statement has now assumed an even greater importance following a number of other recent publications.
The first is the Further Education Funding Council’s (FEFC) consultative document, Funding Learning which proposes a number of models to fund the new FE sector after 1994. Six models are proposed, denoted A to F. Model E is a particularly attractive one and is based on sound educational principles. Model E recognises the need to fund guidance at entry, on-proaramme and exit and
argues cogently that all students need to be supported by on-going guidance. Model F is based on the universal adoption of Training Credit Vouchers and it is possible to see how model E could naturally develop into model F. At present we await to see the results of the consultative phase.
The second important report is that of the Audit Commission ‘Unfinished Business’ . The report starkly shows that retention and outputs are equally important as increasing participation. The sad fact that approximately 30% of full-time students post-16 fail to complete their course is an indictment of the current level of appropriate curriculum provision, but must also reflect the lack of effective guidance at all stages of their studies. Too many students are being, forced to undertake inappropriate provision, whether it be study on academic or vocational awards.
Open, continuous guidance
I fully accept this is a complex issue. Factors that can be identified are no-existent, ineffective or ill-informed guidance in schools or colleges, parental pressure which is often identified with the obsession of the supposed gold standard of ‘A’ Levels, peer influence and limited provision post-16 in some colleges and sixth-forms. There is no point in increasing, participation if the retention rate-decreases. Students must be entitled to open, continuous guidance at all stages of their post-16 work. Many student surveys conducted in post-16 institutions indicate that approximately 10% of the students feel they are on the wrong course.
The reason I welcome the APC/ICG joint statement is that it adopts a wide definition of careers guidance and guidance in general. It argues guidance should:
- be impartial and student centred
- be unbiased and without pressure for opportunity planners and providers
- take full account of factors affecting labour markets
- be equally accessible to all students
- promote equality of opportunity
- be developed by skilled guidance staff who follow a naturally agreed code of practice
It further identifies eleven activities of guidance, namely:
- feeding back
- innovating/systems change
Students centre stage
The statement recognises and anticipates how FE colleges will operate in the future. Colleges in the future must be student-centred, putting the students centre stage in the education/training process. Increasingly students will be empowered, either through such initiatives as Training Credits or the various charters that this Government is developing. Colleges will need to create comprehensive and coherent curricular frameworks across the various elements of academic (GCSE. AS and ‘A’ Level) vocational qualifications (occupationally specific National Vocational Qualifications) and general vocational qualifications (General National Vocational Qualifications). Institutions will also need to enhance and further progress the development of the National Record of Achievement and develop Individual Action Plans. In addition TEC/LEC sponsored students wil require Individual Training programmes. A logical extension to these developments is the provision of Individual Learning Contracts (ILCs) for all students and in all these developments continuous guidance is essential.
Diagnosis and prescription
In an attempt to highlight the changes that will be required I provide this somewhat extreme and generalised analogy. The traditional college (and indeed Higher Education Institution) could be compared with a doctor’s surgery. The patient often arrives in the surgery and the doctor quickly writes out a prescription without any real in-depth analysis of the patient’s problems or needs. The patient leaves and the doctor moves on to the next case. All too often the patient is expected to attend the surgery and the whole process is highly prescriptive. Too often, colleges operated in the same way. The prospective student or students had to attend the college and once on the course had to take the highly prescribed programme. The college of the future must be more like a health shop (or ‘fit pit’ if you prefer the title). The person is received by professional guidance staff, and a careful and sympathetic analysis is made: where they have come from in terms of background, experience and qualification and where they want to go, commensurate with their ability, domestic and financial circumstances is then established. An individualised programme of study is developed and agreed, influenced by their ability to benefit, to pay, and tempered by their individual circumstances.
Another problem in the past was the lack of objective guidance. Too often, students who felt they were on the wrong course were unable to transfer, either because of the lack of an appropriate alternative, or the rigid time constraints of the course scheduling, or even more worrying the pressure put on them by the college managers and Funding Council to maintain class viability often meant that students were made to remain in the class, with the resultant failure and low retention.
Value for money
Guidance must be operated on an honest brokership basis. It must be unbiased and objective, based on the real needs of the individual, not the institutions. This becomes even more important as colleges increase their numbers of mature students who will require guidance, especially in the initial stages. In fact there will be a need for a rapid evolution, possibly a revolution in the way colleges operate. In order to compete effectively with each other and with other competitors, especially those in the private sector, they must provide a quality service even though they must operate on a value-for-money basis and increasingly under the banner of ‘do more for less’.
Colleges will need to establish a large initial guidance service, open all the year round, to which prospective students can be received and undergo guidance. Many will have focused intentions for a programme of study and a clear view of a career These can be quickly referred to the appropriate department/faculty within the college. Others, however, will have unfocused intentions and will therefore need more attention and a full and comprehensive analysis of their prior achievement and experience. Individual action plans will need to be drawn up and then the student, with the plan, will be referred to the department/faculty who might be able to advance the proposed programme of study. Often the college might not be able to offer any further provision, and this is where partnerships with other organisations, for example, TECs/LECs. Careers Services and other providers, are important. These can be essential and effective partners for further specialised guidance or programme provision.
Clearly, the college needs to continue guidance once the student is on programme. The initial guidance services must be complemented by more specialist guidance provision networked throughout the college. All eleven activities of guidance, as articulated in the APC/1CG document must be offered, for example valid up-to-date information, assessment, counselling, etc. This model of complementality will make certain that students continually receive guidance and provides the necessary checks and balances in the system if, for example, a student is unhappy with the provision. The various complementary services must have properly trained staff honouring the code of practice referenced in the APC/ICG document.
The Careers Service has a major role to play in these developments However, it must develop a wider remit embracing adults as well as the traditional case-load of 16-19 year olds. The service must also work closely with the colleges and the local TECs/LECs.
The APC/ICG statement provides an excellent framework for colleges to develop and implement an effective guidance system. I hope the Institute continues to broadcast the importance of on-going guidance within the FE sector and continues to support staff in the colleges in order for them to increase participation, retention and achievement for all students within the colleges.
- Careers Guidance in Colleges of Further Education in Great Britain – APC/ICG. 199?
- Funding Learning, the Further Education Funding Council. December 1992
- Unfinished Business – Full Time Educanona. Courses for Sixteen to Nineteen Year Olds Audit Commission. 1993