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Careers advice is pushing young people into jobs based off their parents' wealth, think tank warns

Apprenticeships should be listed alongside university options to tackle inequality in careers advice, the Social Market Foundation has found

careers advice

Youngsters are receiving different career advice depending on where they go to school or how much their parents earn. Image: NeOn Brand / Unsplash

School careers advice is driving inequality in education by steering young people towards roles based on their parents’ income and background, not individual talent, think tank research has found.

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) revealed that young people studying at schools in wealthier areas were directed towards higher education while children studying in less affluent places were advised to head towards vocational careers instead.

The think tank said making careers provision fairer across the country is essential for the government to achieve its levelling up goals.

“Socially-patterned careers guidance means that people are steered towards different routes according to wealth, not talent or aptitude,” said Niamh O Regan, researcher at the SMF. “That risks entrenching inequality and social division, instead of making sure that all routes are open to everyone, regardless of their background.”

The SMF report, titled ‘Fulfilling its Potential?’, found that university remains the default option for parents and teachers when identifying career paths for students.

To make other options more visible for young people, SMF called for apprenticeship opportunities to be listed alongside university choices on the UCAS application website.

In many schools, students are required to create a UCAS account whether or not they intend to apply to university. Almost half of those registering with the service say they would like more information on apprenticeships.

Clare Marchant, UCAS chief executive, said: “We welcome the recommendations from the Social Market Foundation’s report and are significantly investing in our existing apprenticeship offer to bring true parity to how they, and technical training opportunities, can be presented to side-by-side to students with more traditional undergraduate courses. 

“Our aim is to give students the ability to apply for a basket of choices, some traditional undergraduate courses and some apprenticeships, at the same time. It shouldn’t be an either/or decision.”

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The think tank also said schools and colleges should be given better incentives to improve Information, Advice and Guidance provision by making it a bigger part of Ofsted inspections.

SMF also called for an overhaul of government websites and data sources offering information about university courses to improve youngsters’ access to information about their career options.

“This isn’t about changing the number of people who chose HE or other routes. It’s about making sure people get the best possible information on which to base choices that will shape their careers for decades to come. And right now, the system isn’t always helping people make the best-informed choices,” added O Regan.

SMF’s report comes after the Department for Education published a Schools White Paper proposing changes in the way careers information, advice and guidance is provided in English schools.

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