The Critical Role of career guidance in Preventing NEET young people – Words By Paula Thompson

Over the past decade, the challenge of preventing young people from becoming NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) has been a critical focus within our educational system. At the end of 2023, approximately 1 in 10 young people aged 16–24 were classified as NEET, highlighting the ongoing need for effective interventions. 


In recent years, I have noticed a widening range of reasons why pupils are at risk of becoming NEET. Post-COVID, more young people than ever are now facing mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, affecting their confidence and self-belief. There are higher than ever amounts of long-term absenteeism and consequently, those that are not attending school, are not getting the advice and guidance they need. As career professionals we need to recognise the barriers they are facing and work with them to overcome those barriers.


Throughout my career, I have worked within schools with large numbers of pupils at risk of becoming NEET. These schools often face unique challenges, requiring targeted strategies to prevent students from falling into this category. As a careers adviser myself, I have seen firsthand the positive impact that high-quality career guidance can have on young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.


The role of career guidance in addressing the NEET situation 


Career guidance plays an important role in helping to prevent the number of young people who go on to be NEET. Recent research has suggested that young people aged 12-18 who engage in career guidance have significantly higher career readiness levels.  


High-quality career education and guidance within schools is essential for young people’s futures. It helps equip them for the workplace by offering a clear understanding of the working world, including pathways to various jobs and careers they may find fulfilling. Every interaction we have as career professionals is an opportunity to inspire, particularly with vulnerable and disadvantaged young people. It’s not just about career advice; it’s about empowering them to see beyond their immediate circumstances.  


Back in 2022, we were the delivery partner for the ONE Vision pilot in the Northeast centred around NEET prevention. As part of this, we worked with pupils at risk of becoming NEET in over 30 different schools. Many of the pupils involved were from a disadvantaged background or had special educational needs, both indicators of being at higher risk of becoming NEET.


We ran a number of career workshops and activities for pupils in year 9 to year 11 and over the 2 years, all of the pupils involved received at least 6 career appointments. The pilot was a resounding success and we saw a massive reduction in those that were originally predicted to go on to become NEET.


The project significantly improved career knowledge, sector focus, and goal setting among participating young people. There was a remarkable 113% average enhancement in key career-related areas, with a decrease in students without a career vision from 13% to 6%. Post-16 planning rose from 75% to 98%, and 97% of students are expected to be in education, employment, or training. Most importantly, the majority of students expressed happiness with their chosen post-16 paths.


Partnerships with Local Authorities


Partnerships with local authorities (LAs) are crucial in combatting NEET levels among young people. By sharing vital student data with LAs, schools enable more targeted interventions and support. This collaboration ensures that students at risk of falling into NEET categories receive timely and appropriate guidance, helping them to remain engaged in education, employment, or training.


Some local authorities (LAs) across the country have NEET prevention teams dedicated to supporting young people at risk of becoming NEET. These teams offer guided career support and strive to maintain long-term engagement with these individuals. Our advisers actively collaborate with LAs in areas such as County Durham and Sheffield to provide tailored career advice and guidance. However, the level of involvement from LAs fluctuates, and in many areas, there is a lack of dedicated prevention teams.


The impact of career guidance on destination data  


Effective, high-quality career guidance has been proven to positively impact destination data. Tailored one-to-one sessions with a qualified career adviser help to support young people acquire the self-development and career management skills they need to achieve positive progression destinations. 


According to research conducted by The Careers and Enterprise Company, schools that achieve more of the Gatsby Benchmarks have more students who go on to positive destinations. Significantly, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds experience a 20% reduction in the risk of becoming NEET when attending schools that meet the majority of the Gatsby Benchmarks.


Fundamentally, it comes down to a school having a really robust career provision in place, and unfortunately, we see too many schools where this isn’t happening and in turn, the number of young people at risk of being NEET is rising.



Disparities in career guidance access  


One of the current issues we face in preventing the number of young people from becoming NEET is that not all career programmes are created equal, with students paying the price. Lack of designated funding, resources or knowledge all play a part in some students not receiving the advice and guidance they deserve.


This is particularly evident for young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). In a recent survey, over half of parents with SEND children said that advice and guidance on post-16 options came too late. Further data has also shown that just over a quarter of parents/carers said they had not received clear information and advice about their child or young person’s future from professionals. To me, this is a travesty – how can the government not recognise the vital importance that impartial careers guidance can play in building a prosperous, socially active society and ensure the adequate funds are ringfenced for this?



The role of career guidance in improving Ofsted inspection results


Since implementing the 2017 Careers Strategy, the Department for Education and Ofsted have collaborated to attempt to enhance the quality of career guidance across schools in England.


The 2019 Education Inspection Framework (EIF) introduced by Ofsted in England marked a significant shift in how schools are evaluated, including a stronger focus on the delivery of career guidance which I was delighted to see. This framework emphasises the importance of career guidance as a critical element of a school’s provision.


In September 2021, Ofsted took further steps by updating its school inspection handbook, strengthening the language around career guidance inspections, and making career reporting mandatory. Schools with robust and effective career guidance programmes are likely to receive higher ratings in Ofsted evaluations, particularly in assessing personal development and students’ readiness for future educational or career paths, but does it go far enough in ensuring that schools then have the appropriate levels of funds to suitably meet the requirements of the handbook?

Another question I have is how well inspectors are equipped to fully understand careers. It is more than simply meeting the Gatsby Benchmarks and is worthy of greater appreciation during inspections.


Tackling NEET numbers head-on


The Government has launched several initiatives in recent years aimed at reducing the number of young people who are NEET, focusing on providing pathways to employment through various schemes, including:   


Increased Funding for Schools: They recently announced extra funding for schools in England, totalling nearly £60 billion for 2024-25, to prepare pupils for further and higher education or training in critical sectors.  


Mandatory Career Experiences: In early 2023, they announced that schools must provide at least six encounters with providers of technical education or apprenticeships for students in Years 8 to 13.


Enhanced Support for Apprenticeships: They are working to improve the accessibility of apprenticeships by increasing funding support, which helps cover training and assessment costs for employers and learners. Additionally, there is targeted support for individuals with specific needs, such as those with learning difficulties, care leavers, and those requiring additional English and maths training.


Whilst none of these initiatives are specific to career advice and guidance within schools, the Government has also announced three clear priorities for the next phase of its reforms including:


  • A single, unified careers system that supports all individuals in moving seamlessly through their skills, training, and career journey.


  • More emphasis to be put on skills, training and work experience.


  • A system where all children and young people, regardless of their backgrounds, receive the support they need to lead fulfilling careers.


The need for enhanced policy support and funding for career guidance programmes.  


Despite the Government’s commitment to investing more money in the education system, there is still no dedicated funding stream for career advice and guidance within schools. In addition, whilst, they have mentioned a system for careers support for disadvantaged and vulnerable children, there is no clear pathway as to how they plan to do this.


Funding is one of the major issues preventing all schools from offering high-quality, personalised guidance. The majority of schools across England face competing demands on their time and resources, and they are expected to fund their careers service through their general school budget.  


This lack of dedicated funding is particularly prevalent in areas of social deprivation. There is a distinct link between areas of social deprivation and a lack of funding for quality career guidance. A recent study by the Sutton Trust found that schools in more deprived areas were less likely to have a qualified careers adviser than those in more affluent areas.  


In the most deprived areas, 21 per cent of teachers have observed that personal guidance is often provided by non-specialists, as opposed to 14 per cent in wealthier regions. Additionally, nearly one-third of teachers in state schools report a lack of sufficient funding to offer high-quality careers education and guidance. In contrast, only six per cent of teachers in private schools report similar funding shortages.  




This funding gap needs to be addressed, and additional support should be offered to those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We need to distribute resources more fairly and improve support systems to guarantee that every student receives quality career education and guidance, no matter their socioeconomic background or type of school. A significant consideration would be ringfencing a careers provision budget for each student to enable schools to tap into the local impartial careers providers.


In addition to the funding issue, I believe there needs to be a fundamental shift in how the education sector perceives career guidance. This profession is not merely about offering surface-level advice; it’s a vital and intricate field requiring skilled professionals.


Consider this: if you needed legal advice, you wouldn’t ask your builder. Yet, all too often, teachers find themselves assuming the role of careers advisers alongside their other responsibilities. When really, career advice and guidance need to be provided by highly qualified professionals who have the time to offer tailored and impactful sessions. Schools should all have access to a focused career lead or adviser who can fully focus on delivering high-quality career advice and guidance.


The significance of career advice and guidance was recently highlighted by Katherine Jennick’s campaign, #somuchmorethantalkingaboutjobs. Her initiative demonstrates the critical importance of career guidance, showing that it encompasses much more than simply discussing job options. It plays a pivotal role in developing the potential and directing the futures of young people.


My final recommendation would be that the Government develop and implement a strategic approach to enhance the career advice and guidance offered to young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). This strategy should be comprehensive, inclusive, and tailored to meet the unique needs of SEND students to ensure they receive the same opportunities for personal and professional development as their peers.  


The role of schools and career guidance professionals in bridging the gap


While there are some changes that must be implemented at higher levels, there are significant actions we, as career advisers, can take in collaboration with the schools we serve to help bridge the gap. 


  • Careers programmes tailored to individual needs


Career programmes should address the unique hurdles that prevent young people from disadvantaged backgrounds from achieving successful educational and career outcomes. Understanding that these barriers can vary greatly among individuals, it is crucial to identify and target the most impactful challenges faced by each young person. By customising our guidance to meet these specific needs, we ensure that our support is effectively tailored and impactful for those young people.


  • Early engagement with students from disadvantaged backgrounds


Over the years, I have recognised the importance of early engagement with disadvantaged students who might otherwise prematurely rule out potential career paths. The absence of adequate career information can often lead to ‘career confusion,’ where students’ career goals do not align with their educational background. Early engagement is essential, broadening students’ perspectives and encouraging them to consider a wider range of future pathways. This proactive approach is critical in ensuring that all students, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to explore and aspire to various career options. 


  • Continuous engagement with students at risk of becoming NEET


A single one-to-one meeting is often insufficient to fully address the needs of students at risk of becoming NEET. A more continuous and comprehensive engagement strategy is required to provide effective support. Regular interactions allow career advisers to develop trust and rapport, which is essential for fostering openness and active student participation. This continuous engagement also enables advisers to better understand students’ evolving challenges, allowing them to tailor their advice to resonate with each student.


Progress Careers’ approach  


Quality career guidance plays a huge role in supporting young people in making informed decisions about their future. Working closely with young people at risk of becoming NEET, my experience has shown me the transformative power of one-to-one career guidance. By engaging with them on a personal level, understanding their aspirations, and addressing their fears, we can open doors to opportunities they never thought possible.  


At Progress Careers, we champion the idea that every student is unique and that the guidance they receive should reflect that. Our approach to career guidance is built around this principle. We tailor our support to each student’s situation, making every guidance session relevant and meaningful. Our team of level 6 qualified advisers works directly with students to map out their educational and career pathways in a way that aligns with their personal goals and aspirations.


The role of career guidance is undeniable in shaping successful futures and preventing the NEET status. With the right support, vulnerable young people can and do make incredible strides towards meaningful educational and career paths. These interventions support individual growth and contribute significantly to broader economic and social health.


However, sustaining investment and commitment from government bodies and educational institutions is essential to build on this momentum. We must ensure that funding, policies, and practices align to support every young person, particularly those at risk of falling through the cracks.




So, what can we do as a collective to reduce the number of young people who become NEET?


Despite making significant strides, the challenge is far from over. There is a critical need for systemic change. From enhancing the quality and accessibility of career guidance in schools to ensuring that all young people, regardless of their background, have equal opportunities to succeed. It’s a mission that requires the collective effort of educators, policymakers, and career guidance professionals and I am personally committed to driving this change.


Paula Thompson

Managing Director of Progress Careers