The drive for organisational standards for career guidance in the UK acquired urgency in the early 1990s, fuelled especially by the devolution of government funding for adult guidance to local Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs; arrangements in Scotland were somewhat different but followed a similar pattern). This took place in a political climate in which similar things were happening in other public services: local providers were required to compete for the licence to deliver the service (the ‘quasi-market’). At around the same time the creation of TECs, the Careers Service for young people was devolved to independent companies in 1994. How could the quality of a service be maintained once it was devolved? The mood was one of analysis and measurement. During the same period, qualifications for guidance practitioners were under scrutiny, to be reformulated according to the competence-analysis approach of the National Vocational Qualification framework. And in 1994, also in response to this devolution of provision, guidance-providing organisations from across all the many sectors of careers guidance combined to form what is now known as the Guidance Council. It was this Guidance Council, with funding from the government department responsible for adult guidance, that took on the task of developing organisational standards.
What lessons can be learnt from the last ten years experience that could be of use to other countries? I suggest that there are three key ones:
- that a national quality-assurance system is essential for a general public service, and has benefits beyond the quality of individual agency provision;
- that the balance between certainty and flexibility can never be finally resolved;
- that systems of quality assurance, though important, can not on their own guarantee a good professional service.