Primary-Age Professionals

In August 2012, official figures showed one million young people were still out of work and one in five 16-25 year olds were unable to find a job. We educate children so that they have opportunities, but the challenges that they face are numerous and their environment factors heavily into their expectations.

Children’s ideas about adult work roles are highly influenced by what they experience at home and at school, which may impact positively or negatively on their aspirations and which isn’t always within the control of parents or teachers. Take the rise of celebrity culture for example; ask a group of young people what they want to be when they grow up and chances are several of them will say, “I want to be famous.” We are faced with a celebrity culture that often highlights the most fame hungry above the quiet achievers and, although we may not like it, we can probably understand why this happens. But if we can give children a broad range of realistic role models they can look up to, and if they understand more about the sheer variety of jobs that exist, then it encourages respect and aspirations.

The case for starting early
Research conducted by the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning (‘Determinants of Aspirations’, Morrison Gutman, Ackerman 2008, Institute of Education) states that: ‘The early years of a child’s life are a key time in the formation and development of aspirations, but these are modified by experience and the environment. Some children may have a clear ambition which they will pursue, some will already be focusing on developing a talent, but others will change their ideas repeatedly as their awareness grows.’

Many parents will attest to this but we really do need to make efforts to add to the knowledge they pick up organically from their environment, their friends, the TV they watch and the toys they play with.

According to a study by Ofsted in 2011 on girls’ career aspirations, more and more young women are turning to gender stereotypical and often lower paid careers including hairdressing, beauty therapy and social work due to ‘weak’ careers advice in schools. It is absolutely crucial that we address this by offering pupils, boys and girls alike, information about a real breadth of jobs, and the skills they require.

The real trick will be to make sure this is done in a way that doesn’t over-face children or place too much focus on roles that, although aspirational, may well or feel unattainable to some young people and only serve to further disconnect them from their education. If we draw on real-life experiences and provide personal examples of curriculum topics at work, in a range of professions, representing a mix of gender and ethnicity, we can show children that it is a person’s skills and passions that determines their success.

What does the Government think?

In a recent speech to the Policy Exchange, shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg discussed the need to reform the UK’s education system so that it equips young people with the skills, knowledge, resilience and character essential to becoming active citizens and future business leaders. “We are looking at how businesses can provide ‘work discovery’ programmes to inspire primary school children about the world of work,” he commented, going on to cite the importance of activities such as businesses visiting primary schools to talk about their sector, and organising factory and office trips for pupils.

Unsurprisingly, he isn’t the only person calling for action. Earlier this year, The Work Foundation touched on the issue in its contribution to the House of Commons Education Committee report on Careers Guidance for Young People: ‘Careers education should be introduced as early as primary school, as it is proven to raise aspirations and in tandem, academic achievement,’ the report states. ‘It also prepares young people for school-to-work transitions by equipping them with career management skills and a basic understanding of pathways that careers guidance advisers can later build on.’

Ofsted also supports this view in the report, noting that: ‘Despite the fact that it was never a statutory requirement to provide enterprise education and work-related learning at Key Stage 1 to 3, the better schools surveyed generally regarded it as an essential element of the whole-school curriculum. Such guidance helped to prepare children and young people for their futures within the complex and dynamic economic, business and financial environment in which they live.’

Teachers and schools working with their pupils to round out work-related learning are also in agreement. Robert Perry, deputy headmaster at Myland Primary School said: “There is a need for this sort of service in terms of opening children’s eyes in what is actually around them. Sometimes children have no idea about careers other than what they see on the TV or what their parents do.”

The growing need for career-related learning in primary schools can also be linked to the changing nature of industry. David Illes, headmaster at Richard de Clare Primary School said: “A generation or so ago in a small town such as this, there was a clear route to employment; people knew what they were doing. Now we honestly don’t know what the future holds and we have no idea what these children will be doing, [in many cases] it probably hasn’t even been invented yet.”

Contributions from wider society
To ensure that future generations are given the breadth of knowledge and insight necessary to instil an innate respect for the different jobs, then it is vital for a variety of people to be involved.

We started a project that brought together contributors from 90 different occupations to provide real-life illustrations of the relevance of primary learning to the world of work in the form of a short video film, each linked closely to a curriculum topic. The key for us was to make sure contributors were from a real variety of jobs; ranging from doctors and engineers to drummers and florists. All describe how they use what they learnt at primary school in the job they are doing now, with each video mapped to a curriculum topic with an accompanying list of suggested discussion points, an activities sheet and related links to explore the topic in more detail.    

Professor Martin Knight from Queen Mary University saw it as an opportunity to encourage more awareness of the subject of medical engineering: “We find that many young people may have known about medicine as a career since an early age, but there are all sorts of other careers related to medicine that they aren’t aware until almost it’s too late.”

Ultimately, if work-related learning is delivered well, not only will it help pupils to recognise the relevance of what they are learning, but it can motivate them to work harder at subjects necessary for a career path they would like to follow.  L

Sonita Alleyne is the founder and CEO of the Yes Programme, a career-linked learning resource that gives primary learners an engaging and motivating window into the world of work. 

Further information