It’s official: Connexions is working

Connexions workers have long suspected that they are doing a
good job but at last this has been recognised by somebody outside
of the service.

The findings of a report by the National Audit Office, which
scrutinises public spending, will come as little surprise to those
on the ground, but it should have a morale-boosting effect if
nothing else. Overall it gives Connexions a positive appraisal,
concluding that it “has made good progress in improving the way
that young people receive advice and guidance”. It finds that
Connexions is on track to achieve its target of reducing the
proportion of young people not in education, employment or training
by 10 per cent by November. In the established partnership areas
the numbers of young people not involved in these activities fell
by 8 per cent between November 2002 and 2003.

The positive revelations are no shock for Carolyn Caldwell,
executive director of the National Association of Connexions
Partnerships: “We’ve been saying that it’s going well
for some time and it’s nice to have that confirmed by an
objective viewpoint.”

And with regards to the report’s recommendations she is
particularly welcoming of the suggestion to change the way
partnerships are funded. She thinks it would be “brilliant” if,
rather than funds being allocated on an annual basis, there was
greater certainty over allocations for a three-year period. “It
would mean people could plan more strategically, and it would also
benefit the voluntary organisations we work with,” she says. Longer
term funding would also help with recruitment and retention. “If
you’ve only got a year’s funding it is difficult to
recruit people on a one-year contract. They’re happier if
they know they’ve got a job for three years,” she adds.

The report finds that while schools are confident in the work
that Connexions does with the young people who most need specialist
support, there is less satisfaction with the way the service
responds to the needs of others. But Caldwell feels that the work
that partnerships do for less vulnerable young people tends to go
unnoticed. “Partnerships are doing a load of other things in
addition to the focus on young people who are out of education and
training. There’s a load of work going on to keep people who
are in education and training in it,” she says.

However, others feel that those in less need of specialist help
are sometimes overlooked. Chris Dunning, senior personal adviser
for Connexions Staffordshire, realistically points out that only
limited resources are available. “The government has told us to
focus on the young people who are not engaged. Those who perhaps
just need a bit of careers guidance, who don’t need hours and
hours of assessment and just want 45 minutes with the personal
adviser to talk about work based learning and college,
they’ve got to fight for it a bit,” he says. But Dunning
agrees with the report’s finding that not all teachers are
sufficiently aware of what Connexions can offer, and says that the
role of the personal adviser can be unclear.

“As a personal adviser I give careers guidance, advocate on
young people’s behalf or refer them to others. If I come
across a young person in emotional distress I don’t counsel
them, but I find professional help for them,” he says.

While 70 per cent of young people are aware of Connexions, this
figure means that almost a third are not. So what can be done to
raise the profile further?

“We are in the process of developing Connexions centres in every
town so that young people will know that they are there and will
know where they can go for just about anything. We can signpost and
advocate for them but they have got to come through the door,” says
Dunning. But, as he suggests, if the numbers seeking advice were
suddenly to increase, then existing services, and their premises,
may struggle to cope: “The Newcastle office is bursting at the
seams with people and there’s not the space to sit down and
talk to the young people. If you’ve got a desk, phone and
young people then you can get the job done. But if there’s
nowhere to sit and talk with them, then it’s very

– See

Key recommendations

  • Change funding approach so partnerships have certainty over
    three year budget allocation.
  • Work with schools to ensure staff understand role of personal
    advisers and when to refer.
  • Local targets should be set for reducing level of young people
    not in education, training or employment.
  • Set a target for personal advisers to have completed
    Connexions-specific training.

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