The Connexions service offers a complete careers, counselling and advice service to 13-19-year-olds. It was created in 2000 to address two issues:
- The need to ensure that young people gained the necessary education and skills to meet the requirements of the ‘knowledge economy
- The need to reduce the high number of young people over 16 not in education, employment or training
The Learning and Skills Act 2000 provided for the establishment of the Connexions service, and for ‘Learning and Skills Councils’: the local public/private partnerships responsible for Connexions. Sections 114-122 of the Act allow for information to be collected and shared without consent across a wide range of agencies in order to identify young people in the target age group, and to spot those who are ‘disengaged’ from education or showing signs of having personal problems that might present a ‘barrier to learning’.
The agencies empowered to share information are:
- local authority;
- health authority;
- primary care trusts;
- learning and skills councils;
- probation services;
- youth offending teams.
Every young person is allocated a ‘personal adviser’ (PA) who brokers access to services, and is responsible for carrying out an in-depth personal assessment of the young person. This assessment process is known as APIR (Assessment, Planning, Implementation and Review) and covers every area of the young person’s life, including information about parents, family and friends. Online access to the APIR framework is no longer available, but guidance can be viewed here.
Using APIR, the PA can obtain information from the young person and make assessments under the following headings:
- physical health
- social and community factors
- family history and functioning
- capacity of parents/carers
- risk of committing criminal offences (or re-offending)
- relationships within family and society
- attitudes and motivation
- life skills, key skills and basic skills
- achievements and participation
- substance misuse
- mental health/emotional well-being
Each local Connexions service aims to collect information about everyone aged 13-19 in their area, and this is held on the Connexions Customer Information System (CCIS). Consent is normally sought before information is stored or shared with other agencies, but the consent can be a ‘one-off’ to grant all agencies access to the electronic record until such future time as consent is withdrawn. In other words: the consent need not be limited to a specific time, place or piece of information and the young person cannot refine the consent to specify which of the agencies listed above may or may not have access to specific information. The government confirms this in the final para of a PWA.
As far as information gleaned from the APIR is concerned, a young person’s PA will decide which parts of it should be shared.
The Connexions service believes that any young person in the target age-group (ie 13 or over) can consent to information-sharing in their own right, without the knowledge or involvement of parents, so long as the PA believes them to be ‘competent’. We’ll return to this, and the whole issue of consent, later on.
Information is held on the CCIS until a young person reaches 20 (25 if they have special educational needs) and is then archived for a further 3 years.
The ‘Connexions Card’ is a related smart card scheme for 16-19s, run by Capita, that allows young people to collect points as a reward for participation in education, training or voluntary work. The points can then be exchanged for goods or services. If this is done via the website, consumer profiling is carried out. The card can also be used to obtain discounts in shops, in which case the young person’s purchases may be reported back to their PA.
The future of Connexions:
There is currently upheaval within Connexions because of changes to the way it is funded, a reduction in the size of Learning and Skills Councils, and the question of where it now fits in with the development of the same kind of system for all children from birth (more on this later).