Gerry Steinberg MPIn the House...

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Department for Education and Skills: Connexions Service - Advice and guidance for all young people. (HC 618-I)

Public Accounts Committee 19 May 2004

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Evidence given by Department for Education and Skills: Connexions Service - Advice and guidance for all young people. Mr David Normington CB and Mrs Anne Weinstock CBE

Q10 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I hope you will excuse me but I have to go in a minute to a reception for Doug McAvoy, who is retiring. Perhaps you would like to send him a present! Mrs Weinstock, what should I have said to the mother, and this is true, who said on Monday to me that her daughter had come home from school last week and said that she had a careers interview, that they were useless, that they could not answer any of the questions that she had asked, and she was wanting to do a course on chiropody; that they never came back and said that they would come back and give her the answers to those questions, and all her friends were complaining of exactly the same about the service. What should I have said to her?

Mrs Weinstock: I would have said write to the local chief executive, her name is Janice Bray in Durham, and make a complaint.

Q11 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Go see your MP?

Mrs Weinstock: If you like, but I think it is probably better as a customer going to see the people who can do something about it.

Q12 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Has the service got worse rather than get better?

Mrs Weinstock: I do not think the service has got worse; I think it has got different. We lay great store on developing a service alongside young people themselves, so typically young people are involved in governance on the partnership boards; they have been involved in recruiting personal advisers, chief executives, and, indeed, OFSTED inspections, and independent customer satisfaction surveys do show that over 91 % are satisfied or very satisfied with Connexions. So generally people are very satisfied with the service whatever the presenting issue when they come. I would not pretend it is a perfect service because it is so very new.

Q13 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Well, that is the point, it is very new. Are schools still working on the old premise of the old Careers Service, do you think?

Mrs Weinstock: I think many would like to but, again, listening to young people, many of whom have said, "Look, we may not want the careers interview", we have responded to that, so whilst it is true to say that schools are not getting individual guidance interviews generally across the country for every year level, it is true that we have opened 400 more Stop Shops in the community, 70 % of which are open at the weekend, and 57 % of the calls to Connexions Direct are about learning and jobs, so I would argue that young people are getting advice on careers and learning and jobs in different contexts.

Q14 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So how is it different from what it used to be?

Mrs Weinstock: The big difference is it is an integrated service now.

Q15 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): But they still get specific advice on specific careers?

Mrs Weinstock: If somebody wants specific advice on a specific career I would expect them to get it. However, again, many young people have said to us - and David and I met a young man last week in south London who said this - "Look, I knew from the age of 14 what I wanted to do. That is what I am going to do; I did not need careers guidance". Against that, there was a young man who had been supported by Connexions because he had been excluded from school to find his way back into learning and he is now at FE college supported by an education maintenance allowance. So it depends what the problem is. I think an integrated service is what we need to resolve the problem of far too many young people, one of the highest levels in Europe, leaving school at 16 without qualifications.

Q16 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Can I ask you to be more precise and quicker, because we only have five minutes. How do you explain the change of role at the schools of the Connexions Service?

Mrs Weinstock: We have developed a toolkit for schools on how Connexions works with its other support systems and that was developed by a deputy head, and we have sent leaflets out, and the partnerships have a partnership agreement with schools where schools lay down what it is they want from Connexions.

Q17 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Clearly schools have a different role to play than Connexions, I would have thought. How do their roles differ?

Mrs Weinstock: Schools generally - it is not quite as separated as this but schools generally - are responsible for the careers education curriculum which relates to career and management skills, learning how to navigate your own career, taking some personal development on that. Connexions will generally be responsible for offering impartial guidance on post 16.

Q18 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So what is the responsibility of the school?

Mrs Weinstock: The careers education curriculum is definitely the school's responsibility.

Mr Normington: Also it has a big responsibility for identifying those teenagers who need particular types of help and referring them on to Connexions. The school is very important in that.

Q19 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Teachers therefore still participate in the careers curriculum, obviously, and the Chairman picked up on a very important point. When I was a teacher, many years ago, the Careers Service or the careers curriculum was usually delivered by the PE teacher who was too old to put a tracksuit on any more, did not have any qualifications, and did careers. Is that the same now?

Mrs Weinstock: Sometimes.

Q20 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So what are you going to do about that, then? And that is no disrespect to the teacher who was trying to do the job. Like me, he could no longer run up and down a football field and he clearly was just filling a post. Now, that cannot be the way to do it, and if you say that is still happening that is quite disgraceful, is it not?

Mr Normington: We are trying to approach this in a number of ways. We are trying to set in place a very clear framework of what schools should be providing in career education. We are putting through Connexions support for schools training and teachers, better materials for schools, and then we are improving through Connexions the careers interview, although I accept that there are examples of it not working.

Q21 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Do you have any statistics which show how many careers teachers in schools have the right qualifications to do the job?

Mr Normington: The figures here say two thirds do not.

Q22 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Is that in the report?

Mr Normington: I think that is what it says. Yes, it is paragraph 3.21.

Mrs Weinstock: And FER did a survey in 2001.

Mr Normington: The question is not whether they had formal qualifications but whether they are competent to do it.

Q23 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What do you see as the most important role? Do you see it as getting youngsters into education and training, or getting them a job?

Mrs Weinstock: I think getting them into education and training over a period of time, but I think we must accept that for some individual young people, with the emotional damage they have - some are leaving custody, some are leaving care very damaged - getting the work ethic and getting a job is critically important, but in areas like Merseyside, for example, Connexions followed up employers advertising jobs without training and by going to see the employers converted those jobs into jobs with training, so Connexions does both. It is sort of both/and, rather than either/or.

Q24 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Do you see education and training as being more important than getting a youngster a job?

Mr Normington: Not at the end of the process but we have plenty of evidence, if young people go into very unskilled jobs, that those are the jobs they then drop out of very quickly. So it is better that they are in education, employment or training, and it is better if they are in employment at 16 or 17 that they are getting some training as well.

Q25 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): For example, it says in the report that you have targets to reach. Are your targets reached by just getting a youngster into a job without any training?

Mrs Weinstock: No. The target is reducing the numbers not in learning, not in work, and we have a very close relationship with the Learning and Skills Council, and we were talking to them only yesterday about doing more to offer bonuses both for individual young people and training providers, to convert and move people on from training into work.

Q26 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Moving on quickly, and being slightly parochial, could you explain figure 16, page 26, the block graph? What is the significance?

Mrs Weinstock: It is a graph of the degree to which individual partnerships are focusing their efforts on those at risk of disengaging those who need minimum intervention, and those who need a lot of support. It is in a kind of pyramid, so typically a person, with a stable family background --

Q27 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So why is there this huge variation?

Mrs Weinstock: A lot will be to do with the time at which a partnership --

Q28 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Let's take a "random" example - Durham! Explain to me Durham's performance there, will you? It is near the bottom.

Mrs Weinstock: They are fairly evenly distributed giving intensive support and minimum intervention, and slightly less than some at risk of disengaging. I think the answer you might be after is that some areas, and Durham I am sure you know is one, can attract huge amounts of additional resources given the kind of area it is, so how resources are deployed from the Connexions grant will take that into account.

Q29 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So why does Durham, for example, spend what appears to be less of a priority on that risk of disengaging than it does on minimum intervention, if I am reading it right?

Mrs Weinstock: It will probably have different figures given it is an area of very high unemployment, again as you know, of people who are moving into training of some kind as opposed to jobs, in fact, given the high unemployment rates of the area.

Q30 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Finally, on page 34, figure 21, again taking County Durham again as an example "randomly", explain the significance of that as well, because it looks very good, does it not? It seems to me that everybody in Durham is getting some sort of training, but why are they not fully trained?

Mrs Weinstock: Remember, the National Audit Office was a snapshot at a point in time. Now, I can tell you that Durham are putting all their staff through the full diploma, but also it is important to remember that the partnerships are trying to get a mix of people from different backgrounds so that the training evolves into better practice on multi agency working, and of course on day one of a typical partnership, all of the staff -- -

Q31 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Can I just interrupt, because I am running out of time, and ask my final question? If Durham is so good, which it appears to be on paper, why did the woman say to me that they could not answer any of the questions to the girl, because if you look at the other areas, Sussex, for example, there is hardly anybody trained there, nor in Gloucestershire. Now if in Durham they are all trained and doing so well why did the woman say to me that they could not answer any of the questions?

Mr Normington: That is why she should complain about it. It will never be the case that everybody will be guaranteed satisfaction but it ought to be better than that, and we accept that.

Q32 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So, in other words, there could be some dreadfully inefficient and ineffective Connexions throughout the country?

Mr Normington: No, we are not saying that. It will not be perfect everywhere, of course, and people should complain until they get the right information.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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