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Guidance System in the UK – Introduction

It is important to remember that the UK is in effect four countries; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Each of these has a degree of autonomy and each has its own Careers Guidance system.  Originally these systems were more or less identical with the provision of Careers Guidance being a statutory requirement that local education authorities had to provide in England, Scotland and Wales.  In Northern Ireland Careers Guidance was a function of the civil service.  Apart from this difference in administrative organisation, the services in all four countries were identical, with common standards and training for practitioners.

Over the last 20 years the systems have diverged to a greater or lesser degree; the first main change was the privatisation of services in the mid 1990’s.  This meant that careers services in England, Scotland and Wales were removed from direct local education authority control and became private companies or charities, receiving funding directly from central government.  Further changes to their organisation have taken place as a result of the limited devolution in Scotland and Wales.  In Scotland the separate careers companies were amalgamated into one organisation, Careers Scotland which has now become part of Skills Development Scotland.  In Wales the separate careers companies have now merged into one organisation “Careers Wales/Gyrfa Cymru”.  In England the responsibility for careers guidance for young people has been placed on schools.  Careers Northern Ireland has remained largely unchanged throughout these developments.

Currently the greatest similarities are between Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in terms of the type of service delivered.  In all of these countries the traditional careers service for young people continues to operate i.e. there is an independent careers service that sends expert practitioners into schools to advise young people on their choice of studies and career.  This service continues to support young people through their secondary schooling and also when they are “in transition” – i.e. leaving school, changing job etc.  In these three countries this service is also being extended to adults.

In England the system is currently changing again. The responsibility for providing guidance to young people has now been placed on schools who have to provide access to “independent and impartial” advice. The funding for Connexions services has been withdrawn from local authorities. In some areas the local authority and local schools have joined together to secure guidance services from a guidance company via a single contract, in other areas it is left to the individual schools to source this support themselves.

Alongside these mainstream guidance services secondary schools may also provide a careers teacher and/or learning mentors.  Colleges may also provide a guidance service for their students and universities also have careers centres to assist their students.