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Starting careers learning in primary schools

Teach First and the Education and Employers charity today publish new research highlighting the importance of getting children to think much earlier than at present about their future careers and ambitions through career-related learning in primary schools.

Teach First and the Education and Employers charity today publish new research highlighting the importance of getting children to think much earlier than at present about their future careers and ambitions through career-related learning in primary schools.

The two charities are calling on policy makers and schools to recognise the importance of these findings to help tackle the kind of career stereotypes and narrow aspirations that tend to form in the primary years before lasting into adulthood. 

The findings are included in a new report entitled “Career-related learning in primary: The role of primary teachers and schools in preparing children for the future”. The report was commissioned by Teach First with support from the AKO Foundation and undertaken by the Education and Employer charity with DMH Associates. It comes as part of new efforts by Teach First to drive better career-related learning in primary schools across England, to help children see the relevance of their education and opportunities ahead without holding biased assumptions and having narrow aspirations. 

It is being published to coincide with a new report by the OECD and Education and Employers entitled ‘Envisioning the Future of Education and Jobs: Trends, Data and Drawings’ which is also being launched today in Davos during the World Economic Forum. The OECD are calling on governments, employers and educators to work far more closely together to help broaden young people’s horizons, raise their aspirations, and provide them with the vital work-related knowledge and skills that will help them as they make the transition from school to work.  

Teach First and the Employers and Education charity are today recommending careers-related learning, as it is termed in the report, to be utilised as early as the primary years to help seed and develop the knowledge and know-how that equip children for the next stage of their lives.  

The need for primary-careers learning in 21st century Britain

The need for improved career-related learning has become more urgent than ever, with concerns surrounding a potential post-Brexit skills gap, and much greater awareness of gender stereotyping from an early age.  

In 2017, Teach First research revealed that pupils in low-income communities have less access to careers support than their wealthier peers, while demonstrating that good careers provision can be transformational in helping children to realise their ambitions.  

Since then, interest in careers education has ramped up significantly, particularly in secondary schools where government-funded training bursaries are available for up to 1,300 careers leaders in schools and colleges across England. 

But despite the best efforts of some primary schools, career-related learning for younger children has not improved.  Now, building on the success of Teach First’s Careers and Employability Leadership Programme – which trains middle leaders in secondary schools to take responsibility for careers provision – the charity will look to develop the first careers-related training programme for teachers and leaders in primary through pilots in schools serving disadvantaged communities.  

These pilots would aim to provide career-related learning for all children, especially those who have less access to careers expertise outside of school, as is often the case for disadvantaged pupils. The work will tackle issues like career stereotypes which can form early and negatively affect what young people can achieve – with constraints linked to perceptions of social class, intelligence, and opportunities with limiting ideas of ‘men’s work and women’s work’.  

The pilots will have three main aims: 

  • Enhancing the understanding of jobs and careers. 
  • Growing the skills required in a modern labour market, such as problem solving or teamwork. 
  • Improving pupil outcomes by changing pupil attitudes and enhancing their understanding of what different subjects can lead to.  

Today’s report from Teach First and Education and Employers charity sets out examples of good career-related learning, despite challenges such as finding space and time in the curriculum to provide opportunities to learn about the world of work.  The report identifies that an essential ingredient for successful primary schools is buy-in from senior leadership. It also recommends that primary schools should develop an approach to career-related learning that enables students to engage progressively in a wide range of experiences of transitions and the world of work.  Children should have encounters with the world of work from the age of 5 to see the connection between what they learn and what they might want to do in the future. 

Russell Hobby, Chief Executive, Teach First: 

“We have seen improvements in careers and employability education – but for many reasons, career-related learning has been overlooked when it comes to primary settings, with the exception of the excellent Primary Futures programme.   

“By speaking to our teachers and seeing the research, we know that quality careers provision from an early age is the best way of challenging the stereotypes and constraints that can take hold and limit the ambitions of young people as they grow up.  

“It must be stressed, that none of this is about putting today’s primary pupils straight into workspaces. Nor is it about setting children on a set path from an early age. Instead, we want young people to stay committed to their fantasy careers whatever they may be – but equally, gain confidence and develop a much keener sense of a wide range of opportunities as they grow up.” 

Nick Chambers, CEO, Education and Employers: 

“We are delighted to have undertaken this report for Teach First which builds on research we have done over the last 5 years in primary career related learning. And over this period some 4,000 primary schools have signed up to the Primary Futures programme together with 50,000 volunteers from the world of work - all of whom are willing to go into primary schools and help broaden children’s horizons and raise their aspirations. It is hoped that this report will help focus more attention on the importance of career education in primary.”  

Dr Elnaz Kashefpakdel, Head of Research, Education and Employers: 

“The report outlines a number of activities in primary schools that target important outcomes: educational outcomes, children’s understanding of job opportunities and skills required by the modern labour market. Career-related learning supports motivation and concepts of self, aspiration and broader life and social skills. These outcomes are all essential building blocks that underpin our future workforce.”  

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE, Director, DMH Associates 

“This research is based on robust international and national academic research findings. The message is simple: This is a period largely of exploration and children’s aspirations should, rightly, be tentative and imaginative. Yet, there are a range of attributes, skills and behaviours that can be learned in this stage of a child’s life that will leave him/her in the best possible position with their transitions to secondary education and beyond.” 

Notes to Editors 

For additional information and case studies please contact the press team.

Download the full report

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