Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 48 of Session 2003-04, dated 30 November 2004


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"I am pleased to see that Connexions is doing well in getting 16-18 year olds into education, employment or training. But I am concerned that other young people may not always be getting the advice they need.

For example, there is a range of quality of careers education in schools. Half of schools have been unable to develop the curriculum to include careers education, and in two-thirds of the schools careers education was being led by staff with no formal qualification in the subject.

The Department for Education and Skills and the Connexions Service need to address variations in provision across the country, and provide local training for teachers and other staff in schools."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 48th Report of Session 2003-04, which examined the extent to which the Department for Education and Skills and the Connexions Service are providing a high quality, impartial advice service available to all young people.

The Connexions Service aims to help all young people make informed choices and ease their transition into adult life. This aim goes beyond the scope of the career services that Connexions replaced, providing wide ranging advice on issues such as family relationships and substance misuse. Connexions had a budget of £450 million in 2003-04.

Though Connexions is on course to meet its main objective to reduce the proportion of 16-18 year olds who are not in education, employment or training, there are risks that the wider population of young people may not always get the advice they need. The Department is conducting an 'end to end' review of careers guidance which will inform, and be published alongside, the Youth Green Paper in autumn 2004.

The Committee found that Connexions should work with schools to help them deliver a good standard of careers education. The quality of schools' provision for careers education is very variable. For example, half of the schools surveyed by the National Audit Office claimed they had insufficient time to develop the curriculum to incorporate careers education. Connexions staff should participate in relevant local training of teachers and other school staff, for example on identifying and referring young people who need advice.

The Department should explore why there are large apparent variations in the attention that local Connexions partnerships pay to different groups of young people across England. As partnerships are managed locally to meet specific local needs, some variation would be expected, however some of the differences are large and cannot easily be explained.

Connexions partnerships should make sure that all their staff complete Connexions specific training by March 2005. There have been delays in ensuring that all staff are trained in the way that Connexions operates. Half of the Personal Advisers in the first phase of partnerships (set up before April 2002) had not completed their Connexions-specific training at the time of the National Audit Office's study.

Connexions should ask partnerships to include key messages and lessons from customer feedback in their performance reports, so that nationally Connexions can identify and act upon common concerns.

The Department should ask the Government Offices for the Regions to agree with local partnerships challenging but achievable targets for reducing the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training. Locally set targets should reflect the economic and social conditions that affect each partnership.

Connexions should work towards aligning its targets with those of the Learning and Skills Council. Both organisations have an interest in sustainable employment and both need to reflect the government's wider concern to encourage young people to continue with some form of education.

Connexions should encourage all partnerships to adopt effective data-sharing practices. Practices in data sharing between partnerships and the organisations they work with vary widely between geographical areas. Where partnerships continue to have problems relating to interpretation of the Data Protection Act, Connexions should take the lead in resolving them, in consultation with the Data Protection Registrar.

Connexions' public and private sector providers should, as far as possible, be operating on a 'level playing field'. Withdrawal of the VAT dispensation risks disadvantaging partnerships subcontracting to private sector partners. It is important that decisions about delivery partners are not distorted by tax considerations, but offer the best value and quality of service for young people.

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