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EACEA National Policies Platform


3. Employment & Entrepreneurship

3.4 Career guidance and counselling

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 25/11/2020 - 10:59

On this page
  1. Career guidance and counselling services
  2. Funding
  3. Quality assurance


Career guidance and counselling services

Careers guidance and counselling in schools and colleges 

The Northern Ireland Curriculum for Key Stages 3 and 4 (ages 11–16) incorporates ‘employability’ which includes ‘career management’ in the 'Learning for Life and Work' area. In addition to the taught element of Employability at Key Stage 4, students have access to impartial individual guidance provided by career specialists in school or through the Northern Ireland Careers Service (see below) or  a through a combination of both. 

Further information about ‘employability’ at Key Stage 3 in the curriculum is available from the Northern Ireland Curriculum website.  Also available is guidance on Education for Employability at Key Stage 4 .

A refreshed strategy for careers education, Preparing for Success (2015-2020): a strategy for careers education and guidance, was published in March 2016 and remains current at the time of writing (November 2020). The vision for the strategy (and associated action plan) is that young people and adults develop the skills and confidence to realise their potential and follow the career path which suits them best, thereby contributing to their community and supporting economic development and social prosperity. The strategy can be summarized in five policy commitments:

  1. The careers system will have an accountability and quality assurance framework to ensure delivery of high quality careers services and improve transparency. This includes the introduction of a statutory duty to ensure the provision of impartial careers guidance.
  2. Access to careers services will be improved through the use of new and innovative delivery channels, including online web chat and social media to allow clients to access services at a time and place that meets their needs, improving customer satisfaction and cost efficiency. This will include online, robust, user-friendly and up-to-date labour market information.
  3. Work experience for young people, schools and employers will be improved to ensure equality of opportunity and improve the administrative process of organising work experience opportunities.
  4. Access to impartial advice will be maintained and improved, including offering face to face impartial advice to young people at key transition stages; providing additional support to those at risk of becoming disengaged and those with barriers; and providing more advice to parents.
  5. Young people should have access to an e-portfolio to record activities undertaken to improve their employability including work experience, voluntary and part-time work, careers learning, sporting achievements, and other relevant extra-curricular activities alongside educational qualifications.

It builds on the previous document Preparing for Success Strategy 2009-2014 (Department for Employment and Learning and Department of Education) and was influenced by the 2014 independent review of the careers services, and the NI Assembly's inquiry into Careers Education, Advice and Guidance.

Higher education  

While higher education institutions (HEIs) are under no statutory obligation to provide careers information and advice, it is recognised as an important aspect of their overall provision for students. Indeed, the UK Quality Code for Higher Education sets an expectation, as outlined in Indicator 6 of Chapter 4B: Enabling student development and achievement, that higher education providers must:

have in place, monitor and evaluate arrangements and resources which enable students to develop their academic, personal and professional potential (page 6).

All HEI’s have their own careers service staffed by professionals who are trained in this area. The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS) is the professional association for HE careers practitioners.

In many cases, students can still access their university careers service for several years after graduation. Some universities allow lifelong access.

Northern Ireland Careers Service 

The Northern Ireland Careers Service provides an impartial, all-age careers information, advice and guidance service. Professionally qualified Careers Advisers are based in Careers Resource Centres, Jobs and Benefits Offices and Job Centre Plus – the network of social security and social security network maintained by the UK Government’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).


Schools, colleges and universities are responsible for funding the services they provide.

Quality assurance

Schools and colleges 

Careers education provided by schools and colleges is assessed by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI). The ETI has developed quality assurance indicators for careers education to help ensure consistency of provision and assist schools and colleges with their self-evaluation in this area.

The Department of Education collects data annually on the highest qualification and destination of secondary school leavers. This creates a statistical base which informs a wide range of policy areas aimed at raising standards and tackling educational underachievement.

Higher education 

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) carries out reviews to check whether higher education providers are meeting the expectations set out in Chapter 4B: Enabling student development and achievement of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. As noted above, the indicator most relevant to career guidance and counselling services is Indicator 6:

Higher education providers ensure all students have opportunities to develop skills that enable their academic, personal and professional progression (page 16).

This indicator is supported by examples of how it may be interpreted in practice, grouped under the following headings:

  • developing academic skills
  • developing employability skills
  • facilitating career management.

Since the autumn of 2012, universities have had to supply information on the destinations and salaries of their recent graduates as part of the Unistats Data Set data collection – this information allows prospective students to compare institutions by employability rates of graduates. Data on the employment of graduates is also included in the annual survey of Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE).

Northern Ireland Careers Service

The Northern Ireland Careers Service achieved Matrix accreditation in January 2013. The Matrix Standard is an externally assessed standard covering the delivery of information, advice and guidance. Matrix is a unique quality standard for organisations to plan, deliver, review, evaluate and develop their advice and support services. It also gives reassurance to potential users about the quality of services they can expect to receive when considering career choices and learning, work and life goals.

Central to the Department of Education's Careers Strategy 2015-2020 is the development of an accountability and quality assurance framework, which creates a system for monitoring areas of service delivery in careers education and careers guidance including both performance and quality measures. 

The strategy also envisages that all careers practitioners throughout the system will be professionally qualified and obliged to maintain their professional competence through continuing professional development and adherence to professional standards.