Head of the National Audit Office Sir John Bourn today reported on the Connexions Service, concluding that it is a radical change in the delivery of advice and guidance to young people and is on target to meeting its major objective of reducing the proportion of 16- to 18-year olds not in education, employment or training by 10 per cent by November 2004. Achieving the 10 per cent target may result in short term economic benefits of £180 million and longer term benefits of over £1.4 billion. The report examines ways in which Connexions is working well and identifies several issues which should be addressed to further improve the service.
The Connexions Service, part of the Department for Education and Skills, was launched nationally on a phased basis in April 2001 with an annual budget of £450 million and is delivered through a network of 47 Connexions Partnerships. It aims to help all young people make informed choices and ease the transition into adult life. The target to reduce the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training by 10 per cent between November 2002 and November 2004 is made more stretching by the fact that Connexions partnerships are actively seeking to identify previously unknown cases of young people who are not in education, employment or training. Connexions has significantly improved the quality of information available. The NAO found that, as of November 2003, the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training had been reduced by eight per cent where the service had been established the longest. Nationally a three per cent reduction had been achieved by this date and the Connexions Partnerships were confident that the 10 per cent target will be achieved by November 2004.
The Connexions Service is well-regarded by its partners and clients. The majority of 16,000 young people surveyed who had been in contact with a personal adviser said that Connexions had a positive impact on their lives, with 68 per cent saying it had helped them make a decision about their future. Ofsted carries out inspections of Connexions partnerships and has rated the quality of service as good. The NAO found that Connexions was working well in partnership with other organisations.
There is a risk, however, that Connexions may not be reaching all of the young people it is meant to assist. Far fewer Personal Advisers are in post than had been originally envisaged, a consequence of Connexions operating with less resources than originally anticipated. Connexions is meant to provide a broad range of advice and services to all young people; however, it does not always cater for the needs of young people who are not at risk of dropping out of education and training. Although the majority of Personal Advisers already hold professional qualifications, at the time of the study, only half had started their Connexions specific training. There is also a lack of clarity regarding the respective roles of schools and the Connexions Service in providing careers advice to young people.
The NAO found that in order to improve the service:
- Partnerships should be encouraged to set local and regional targets for reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training. These targets would feed into the national target and would allow partnerships to be more responsive to local conditions.
- The Department needs to set a clear target date for the majority of Personal Advisers to have completed Connexions-specific training.
- Better analysis of the results of interventions is required so that resources can be allocated more effectively.
- The Department needs to develop performance indicators for the full range of services provided by Connexions partnerships to ensure that all young people get the support they need.
- The Department needs to ensure that schools have the capacity to work with Connexions to provide support for all young people and that school staff are fully aware of the services offered by Connexions.
- The Department needs to revise the current year-on-year funding approach so that partnerships have greater certainty over the budget they will receive over a three year period – enabling them to take a more strategic approach.