21st March 2005
a bridge too far?
The recent Government White Paper has not finished Tomlinson off; it was
probably not meant to. And Connexions? We dont know what will happen,
but it seems unlikely that its underlying community-linked strategy can
be abandoned. Both initiatives propose advances that will not easily be
work should welcome them. It is for enabling people to improve their life
chances. And, together, Tomlinson and Connexions offer our work its biggest
and most realistic opportunity to do that.
useful for the way in which both sets of proposals reposition careers
work. And there are life-long possibilities here: the two initiatives
are directed immediately to the most vulnerable 14-19 years olds; but
they can lead to the development of more effective programmes for all
young men and women; and that will establish a basis for genuinely life-long
learning and career-planning help for all. We wont get there in
a single bound; but Tomlinson and Connexions offer a chance to move forward.
Why so? Careers
work enables learning; it is, therefore, best positioned in learning settings.
Whatever happens to Tomlinson and Connexions in the short-term, in the
long-term the trends they reflect will offer careers work more effective
partnerships with a deeper and expanding range of learning help. We need
day-on-day links with those resources.
But we need
more. We know that, of the people we should be able to help, a good many
just do not use careers work in its current settings. There is a credibility
issue. And dealing with it may prove to hang less on claims to professionalism,
expertise and impartiality; and to depend more on demonstrating accessibility,
trustworthiness and usefulness.
the building blocks in the Tomlinson-Connexions bridge. For the moment,
it is a bridge-too-far for Government. But enough is in place to allow
us to move forward.
the conclusions now
The White Paper
on Tomlinson, and the forthcoming Green Paper on Connexions cannot spell
the end of either initiative. The social trends to which the initiatives
respond are too marked. Their actions are supported by a pretty-well unanimous
understanding of the needs they serve. Both initiatives have big implications
for careers work. Some of these are obvious, some are - for the moment
unwelcome; but some are more radically constructive for careers
work than, at first sight, appears.
green paper has been postponed again (it will not appear this month).
But leaks suggest that future Connexions funding might be channelled through
schools and colleges and as part of local-authority work in childrens
trusts. We dont yet know on what terms funding will be distributed
and many devils lurk in that detail. But, however it works out,
the move would relocate careers work closer to the communities it serves.
In particular, advisers could find themselves working with a more local
yet more expanded range of partners. Despite worries on the part of some
careers-work people, this would be far-from-bad news.
The best of
Connexions intentions are socially integrative the launch
report was entitled Bridging the Gap. Tomlinson is also socially
integrative: when Mike Tomlinson defends his committees proposals
he speaks of an end to snobbery. Snobbery is to social class
what prejudice is to race and gender. These proposals are for a single
bridge, taking both vocational and academic traffic
on a shared learning route. It all gets professional applause. But, for
the politicians, it is a bridge too far. The white-paper response leaves
A-levels and vocational diplomas signposting divergent routes - anyway,
for the time being.
Among the OECD
countries, Britain ranks low on post-16 participation. Early-life upbringing
is still a big predictor of working-life chances life-long. Yet,
it is hard to find anyone to blame, the problem is institutional - in
the way our systems work. It is all deeply unfair; and it is not getting
any better. That is why Mike Tomlinsons committee was commissioned
- to find a better way.
people have been quick to point out that the white paper will create a
greater demand for helping learners with options. But, any commitment
to improving the life-chances of learners can hope for something deeper
and more important. Together, Tomlinson and Connexions can offer more
recognisably usefully learning, more contact with communities and families,
and better access to both school-and-college and community learning resources
they offer a fairer system in which people can have more trust.
We need strong
versions of both Connexions and Tomlinson.
a case for integration
The leaks on
Connexions open up possibilities for locating advisers in schools and
colleges. They also suggest that schools and colleges can themselves be
linked into local networks of help set up by local-education-authority
childrens trusts. One of the effects would be to extend the range
of links advisers can make - for example with the professional and voluntary
services associated with Sure Start (a pretty successful support programme
for mothers-to-be, their toddlers and their families). It would also put
advisers in a position to know and be known in that community of help
and among its learners.
It would be
a big change; but it seems the Connexions brand will survive. We will
need it in some form some back-up and coordinating services can
only be managed from outside schools and colleges.
proposals would also strengthen links with other helpers. There is more-than-one
profession engaged in careers work. Advisers and teachers are among them,
but - through both Connexions and Sure Start - there are others. And,
as schools-and colleges and the trusts have demonstrated, there are also
voluntary helpers like mentors. With sensitive professional support
mentors offer what often proves to be the most accessible and credible
This is professionally
integrative for advisers. Connexions locates them where they can map a
range of help, and signpost appropriate help to those at different kinds
and levels of career-development risk. It also puts them in a better position
to fulfil their universal task of supporting all young men
They can do
all of this on the basis of on-going contact with local social and cultural,
as well as economic and professional, involvement. There is, in the Connexions
community already, some sensible talk of organising provision around local
cases for consolidation
Not all careers-work
people are happy about this. Some want a clearly-separated service, with
its own specialism in well-defined educational and vocational matters.
It is a call for consolidation rather than integration.
And it is
what movers and shakers in some of our professional associations want.
They are getting some support from research-and-development organisations.
However, not much of that argument has, so far, paid much attention to
the damaging social stratification which made both the Tomlinson reforms
and Connexions necessary.
It would be
unfair not to mention that there are pro-consolidation arguments to be
worked through: for example on the impartiality of a dedicated service,
its ability to provide central back-up facilities, and the risks of separation
from like-minded colleagues. All can be argued in more than one direction;
but they should not be by-passed.
a case for consolidation is also being put forward by the Conservatives.
The party promises to scrap Connexions and replace it with a single all-age,
specialised and business-oriented careers service. In these proposals
social-and-emotional concerns would be contracted to the voluntary sector.
This is a reminder
of neo-conservative economic assumptions: people act rationally; in a
social-and-cultural vacuum; and with the right skills all but a small
minority can navigate any institutional pathway - whatever its configuration;
because we are freely-choosing individuals.
doubts all of that.
a matter of fact - does Tomlinson.
more integration in a stratified society may be a problem for politicians
of any political party. Stratification means that the advantages of the
parents are inherited by their children origin predicts destination.
Private education is part of the dynamic; and parental choice is closely
entwined with it. So is the gold standard of A-levels
it buys career preferment. In what might yet turn out to be a closely-fought
election, it would be surprising if any governments white paper
risked headlines about damaging your kids chances. It
would fly in the face of what papers do, and what families are for. So,
for the time being, the issue must remain open.
The issue for
Tomlinson is this: curriculum-and-assessment pathways are too divergent
to be fair to all. Once, between 14 and 19 years, a person makes his or
her first career-related move, then the system allows that momentum to
take its course in what has too-often proven to be a life-long-lasting
event. That is why the system is stratifying. The issue is not about poverty,
it is about entrapment.
is not talking about minorities: the report intends to influence the learning
of all 14-19 year-olds. And it assumes widely-spread damage in the way
we currently set up opportunities. That career-development damage is too
widespread and too deeply embedded for the conventional apparatus of careers
guidance to repair.
It is the depth
and breadth of the problem that requires integrative solutions. Both Tomlinson
and Connexions argue for stronger links between learning and life. Both
recognise the need for a wider range of help: Connexions looks to voluntary
and community-based help; Tomlinson seeks to engage the whole curriculum.
Tomlinson is strong on curriculum, Connexions is strong on community.
We need them both. And they need each other: Tomlinson can bring life-relevance
to a unified education system; Connexions can develop a trusted and accessible
network of community resources.
A test of any
policy for careers work is how well it positions helpers to help. Careers
work is a learning process and it is best located in a learning setting.
And none of the current round of proposals would cause advisers to disappear
in a puff of smoke. On the contrary, it would re-locate them where they
can most help, and to where they can most influence the network of help.
coordinators: to develop the network, to put it in touch with learners,
and to support the range of help it offers. It is hard to imagine anyone
in a better position than careers advisers to occupy that role. Indeed,
there are trained careers advisers already creating the role. It gives
further meaning to that emerging concept of sub-regional organisation
It would, of
course, mean re-jigging career advisers' range of contacts and drawing
on their networking and feedback skills. It would call on the training
they already have; but it would also point to new areas of training. The
word professional occasionally gets a bad press; but even
the most determined defender of professional values would not expect to
get away with the argument that professions dont change.
how much of this is new?
few of the proposals now on the table are new. We have recent memories
of successful community schools and colleges - representing wider purposes
and more diverse resources than have become conventional in recent years.
Community outreach work by careers advisers is certainly not new
it is often made to happen by networking professionals, learning as they
go. The same is true of school-and college-based careers advisers.
And, on classroom
uses of learning method: we know a lot about how learning is enabled through
focussed and credible work-related tasks - drawing on more-than-one academic
discipline, as well as on links in the community. It is true that there
have been wishy-washy versions of such integration. But we know how to
I know of no
direct evidence that would discredit a more integrated approach to careers
work. Indeed, there is evidence to support it. Where such integrative
strategies have been discarded, it has not been because they dont
work, it has been because they conflict with dominant policy imperatives.
imperatives are not categorical they change.
miss the chance
Connexions present the biggest opportunity realistically to contribute
to society that careers work has yet been offered. We should welcome it.
But, as you
know, every opportunity is also a threat! And this one will involve massive
adjustment on our part. The people who must make Connexions and Tomlinson
work will need stamina for a prolonged re-alignment of their networks.
That development will reach far beyond any concept of partnership
too many useful players.
It will also
need new underpinning thought: on the cause-and-effect links between upbringing
and opportunity, between culture and learning, and between working-life
in general has had some daunting claims made on its behalf. Among these
is the enabling of life-long learning. Work of this depth and complexity
needs more resources than careers services or careers education
can muster. The Connexions-Tomlinson bridge puts that kind of work
within our reach. It supports a broader and more effective path for progress.
All of this
will expand the scope, deepen the expertise and enhance the contribution
of all careers workers which includes advisers and their many partners.
Such developments often start with a concern for the most needy; careers
work did. But as careers work has already shown - that learning
can be extended to the needs of all. The career-learning needs of the
majority are not so different those of the minority tho they
may be less troublesome to other people. And like Sure Start
career learning can be further extended into the whole community. Basic
learning needs dont change that much over the years, Putting advisers
in a position to help means putting them where they can draw on the resources
needed for offering effective help; but it also means bring them from
the margins, to where they can influence the expansion of help
for majoritys as well as minorities, for older people as well as
One of the
most significant features in this repositioning of the work will be the
opportunities it gives - to advisers in particular - to know all of these
people at all these life stages - and to earn their trust. None of this
will erode anybodys professionalism- tho it may
change what we mean by the term.
know where were going?
There is a
long way to go. Senior civil servants, speaking of Connexions, have been
heard to declare that nobody is looking for a quick fix. An education
minister, speaking of the white paper, has declared nothing is set
in stone. Learning from experience may need more than one incarnation
of Connexions. And Tomlinson was always understood to be a decade-long
It will be
a bumpy ride: few such reforms offer everybody on board a guaranteed winwin.
Concessions will have to be made. But the higher priority might be to
avoid lose-lose. Withdrawal to the margins of the action would
be a lose-lose.
are at least three sets of integrative connections interwoven here:
social integration means a shared system for working on who-gets-to-do-what
in our society:
people low in the pecking order to improve their life chances;
> extending from that, to all who need career-planning help;
> developing a sustainable strategies for enabling life-long career
professional integration means recognising the authority of other
sources of help:
> access school-and-college curriculum resources;
> ... in careers education and from wherever they are found to be useful;
> access other sources of help in the community:
> ... among professional workers and voluntary help;
> offering feedback on what works - and why;
> coordinating and signposting networks of help.
community integration means respecting the locality:
> understanding local beliefs and values concerning working-life and
> appreciating what that means for what people do about work;
> seeing how that is changing;
> developing help that can be recognised and found accessible;
> building trust in what is offered;
> enabling people to know what of their culture they must hold to and
how they will move on.
to the beginning
There is room
for much variety here. In an activity as personality-based and as culturally-sensitive
as careers work, helpers need to be able to find locally-appropriate ways
of helping. The CPI papers (see below) are designed to support that process.
A problem for policy is the urge to standardise. You can see what there
is to be gained from that, but there are also significant losses. And,
in this encounter between careers work and policy, there is more-than-usual
One more thing
- about that other bridge-too-far: Arnhem was not the end
of that story either.
article is part of series. There are others here now (see below) and there
will be more in the future. We need to re-examine what careers-work professionalism
can mean in contemporary culture. And we need to do more on the implications
of integration for adult guidance. There is also a critical but largely
unexplored research agenda here.
back to www.hihohiho.com
You are in
the magazine section of
The Career-learning Café
more on the
need for trust and accessibility
in careers work
more on the whole CPI
more on what a school or college career-learning
network might look like
copy and summary of the white paper from www.dfes.gov.uk/publications/14-19educationandskills
narrative compellingly conveys these issues.
You can find
stories, showing how working-class people have grasped life-long learning,
in Jonathan Roses book The Intellectual Life of the British
Working Classes (Yale University Press, 2001)
And for a sense
of the economic, social and cultural pressures that - these days - many
must still contend, take a look at Nick Daviess Dark Heart
The Shocking Truth About Hidden Britain (Vintage, 1998)
Two of Nicks
real-life stories are in The Café:
tell Bill how
careers work can help people like Karen and Terence?
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