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Raise aspiration and counter negative stereotypes by teaching young children about careers

29 June 2023

Teaching primary school children about careers could raise aspirations and break down negative stereotypes about gender and background, the Education Committee says in a new report.

The cross-party Committee’s report (embargoed copy attached) follows its inquiry into the quality of careers education information advice and guidance (CEIAG) delivered in schools and colleges.

It found a number of shortcomings in the amount of time and resources that many schools are able to dedicate to careers education which, if rectified, could boost young people’s attainment and future prospects.

Education Committee Chair Robin Walker MP said: 

“Getting careers education right would do so much to inspire and boost the life chances of young people in every corner of the country. It would also help the UK economy by filling skills gaps in the labour market, while being a tool for levelling up deprived areas.

“We heard how careers education at primary school can counter negative stereotypes around gender, race, and economic background that become embedded in pupils’ minds. It can raise the aspirations of children with SEND by highlighting the multitude of jobs they can aspire to do. Learning about different jobs also helps inform children’s subject choices as they progress through the school system.

“After a period of slow progress and patchy provision, this report outlines a number of steps DfE and Ofsted could undertake over the next couple of years, building on work they are already doing, to put careers education back on the map and in the minds of school leaders, staff and employers around the country.

“First we need an updated Careers Strategy with clear measurable targets and actions. We have the Gatsby benchmarks, but focus needs to be placed on schools achieving more of them. We argue the Government should commit to a one-off round of development funding to support schools that need the most help in improving their careers education, most likely due to a lack of resources and expertise. The Department should also pilot a programme of funding careers advisers directly rather than requiring schools and colleges to buy in this support from their existing budgets.

“We heard from young people who told us they had struggled to access high-quality work experience in smaller towns and rural areas. For some, virtual work experience has been a fantastic innovation that should enable bright, enthusiastic children to get inspiring, meaningful work experience placements with a wealth of employers, regardless of where they are from. But wherever possible we want this to supplement hands on work experience, not be a substitute for it.

“We also want to see careers education incorporated into the way teachers and SENCOs are trained so that they are equipped to blend CEIAG into the curriculum through every pupil’s time at school. High quality careers education that is tailored to pupils’ needs is more important than ever and supporting the whole teaching workforce to deliver it is essential if the full benefits are to be realised.”

Key findings from the report are summarised below.

The current state of careers education 

Government policy says that all state secondary schools and colleges must provide careers guidance to pupils from years seven to 13, and to those aged to 25 with an education, health and care plan (EHCP). Schools and colleges are supported by the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) through local Careers Hubs, training programmes, and other resources.

Witnesses in this inquiry criticised DfE for not having updated its 2017-20 Careers Strategy, which included policies such as creating 20 Careers Hubs; requiring secondary schools to offer pupils one encounter with employers each academic year; and schools having a named Careers Leader to run a CEIAG programme.

Other policies in this area include the ‘provider access legislation’ Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022, which requires schools to give training providers and colleges access to pupils in years 8 to 13 to discuss technical education and apprenticeships. Schools are also expected to comply with the eight Gatsby Benchmarks, which include a goal for every pupil to have had at least one experience of a workplace by age 16 (additional to any part-time jobs), and further experience by age 18.

Updating the 2017-2020 Strategy 

The Sutton Trust’s Dr Rebecca Montacute told the Committee that the 2017 strategy “has been allowed to lapse and not be replaced”. Philip Le Feuvre, Chief Strategy Officer at NCFE, suggested that a core part of an updated strategy should include specific outcomes and a commitment to measure success against them. He also highlighted a current lack of evidence about what works in CEIAG.

The report recommends that DfE publishes an updated Careers Strategy, developed in consultation with other departments and stakeholders, by the end of 2024. This should include clear, measurable outcomes and dates by which these should be achieved, including targets for the number of schools achieving the Gatsby benchmarks.

Teach primary pupils about careers 

DfE should hold an evaluation of the £2.6m Careers Programme, which it launched in January, after 12 months. The programme supported CEIAG being delivered in a small number of primary schools.

The Committee recommends that if shown to have been a success, this pilot programme should be scaled up to cover every area of England. DfE should also work with the Gatsby Foundation to develop a tailored set of benchmarks for careers education in primary schools, and provide guidance and resources for schools through the Careers and Enterprise Company.

Careers education counters negative stereotypes

The Committee heard that starting careers provision at an early age is essential in supporting children to learn about the world of work, developing high aspirations, and breaking down stereotypes. Early CEIAG should also focus on “ensuring that children before the age of 10 do not rule out options for themselves because of where they live or what their parents do,” the report says. Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of Edge Foundation, said by age 10 “girls have already decided they will not be a doctor or an astronaut or a fireman; they will be a nurse or a caregiver or a teacher”.

‘Virtual work experience’ and tackling regional disadvantage

The Sutton Trust found that in 2021 only 30% of year 13 pupils and 10% of those in years 10-11 reported having taken part in work experience arranged by their school, and the Committee heard that young people in rural areas face particular barriers to access. Philip Le Feuvre, Chief Strategy Officer at NCFE, described a “growing crisis” in work experience that is “amplified by regional disadvantage”.

Working with CEC, DfE should develop a toolkit setting out what constitutes meaningful work experience and create a national platform for work experience opportunities, including virtual placements – where pupils take part remotely. The Department should consider whether “administrative requirements” could be reduced so that schools and smaller employers aren’t put off arranging work experience, without compromising pupils’ safety or wellbeing.

Ofsted should uphold focus on careers education 

As part of DfE’s updated Careers Strategy, Ofsted should be tasked with upholding a strong focus on CEIAG provision and monitoring whether schools are meeting the Gatsby benchmarks when inspecting schools. On average, schools are meeting only half of the benchmarks.

Ofsted should monitor and ensure schools comply with measures in the provider access legislation. It must also ensure it gives appropriate weight to vocational routes when looking at destinations data, pupils' preparedness for their next steps, and that schools actively promote apprenticeships as a positive destination.

Pupils with SEND ‘taught to have low aspirations’ 

Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) particularly need tailored CEIAG due to facing additional barriers to finding work, and having less access to role models and opportunities.

Children with SEND often do not receive the right support due to a lack of specialist careers advisers, low expertise among special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs), and a lack of accessible work placements.

The report recommends DfE work with the Careers and Enterprise Company to publish data on the proportion of SENCOs who have had careers training and set out plans to ensure all SENCOs are fully trained and working with Careers Leaders. DfE’s pilot to extend Supported Internships to pupils without an EHCP should be rolled out across the country.

More funding for careers education

When responsibility for CEIAG was transferred to schools and colleges in 2012 it meant that funding had to come out of settings’ existing budgets. This has caused significant disparities in provision between different schools and colleges; the Committee heard that schools are on average only spending £2 per pupil on careers. DfE’s expenditure on CEIAG provision through CEC also falls far short of what is needed.

The Department should issue a one-off round of developmental funding to support schools that have the worst record on achieving the Gatsby benchmarks to improve their CEIAG provision. The Department should also pilot a programme of funding careers advisers directly through the CEC, rather than requiring schools and colleges to buy in this support from their existing budgets.

Make careers part of teacher training 

A Sutton Trust poll of teachers found 88% felt their training did not prepare them to deliver CEIAG. DfE should launch a consultation on how best to incorporate CEIAG into teacher training, including during initial teacher training and Early Career Frameworks, National Professional Qualifications and CPD. DfE must also ensure teachers are provided with opportunities to experience workplaces outside of teaching.

Further recommendations 

  • To embed CEIAG into the curriculum, DfE must engage with CEIAG professionals and employer representatives to ensure links to relevant career paths and examples from the world of work are incorporated.
  • The National Careers Service (NCS) website has little recognition among young people. DfE should either ensure this website has content appropriate and accessible to under-18s or create an alternative website for this group.
  • DfE should bring the existing delivery bodies, NCS and CEC, under a single strategic umbrella function, sharing a common strategic framework and coordinating local services.

Further information

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