Primary School Pupils with Teacher

The Value of Careers Work with Primary School Pupils: Research and Resources


Written by Liz Reece

The difference between children’s career aspirations from age seven to 17 are marginal, and too often based on gender stereotypes, socio-economic backgrounds and influenced by TV, film and radio. This is the summary provided by charity Education and Employers on 19th January 2018 in its report Drawing the Future. Their research in partnership with Tes, the NAHT, UCL Institute of Education and OECD Education and Skills – the biggest of its kind – was based on the aspirations of 20,000 international pupils. It is a timely report considering the Government’s careers strategy published in December which acknowledged the benefits of starting careers guidance earlier and announced a £2 million programme to test approaches to careers guidance in primary schools.  Working on primary careers education resources for a major retailer I’ve continued to research the benefits of careers work in primary schools and some of the resources available.  This is what I’ve found out:

What is the effect of careers work in primary schools?

There isn’t much research about the benefits of careers education in the primary setting. However, that which has been done gives evidence that very young pupils gain many benefits from careers education that introduces them to the world of work and helps them see the relevance of their studies.  KS2 children studied are receptive to learning about employment opportunities and skills, especially when linking them to their subjects. Whilst broadening horizons about the world of work, careers events can strengthen competencies in decision-making, presentation, transition, sociability, listening and planning and can bridge gaps by raising aspiration in deprived areas.

Early research and theories around primary careers education by Seligman (1994) and Super (1996) suggests that primary children grow during a period of developing their career ‘fantasies’ into ‘interests’.   Of more practical use, Bill Law and Barbara McGowan researched and developed a framework for primary school pupils in 1999 which is set out in short in New Dots with examples of how primary children learn to ‘sense’, ‘sift’, ‘focus’ and ‘understand’ in careers learning.

An observational study by Gothard (1997) on Careers Education in a Primary School assesses the impact of a ‘Careers Week’ event held within a single primary school. The researcher found that six months after the careers event, the year 4 pupils remembered much of significance.

From 2009 to 2010 a Key Stage 2 Career-Related Learning Pathfinder pilot programme study was undertaken in 7 urban local authorities across England. The pilot focused on developing pupils’ growing perception of their own place in the world of work. The programme included workplace visits, in-school career insight talks with professionals from the world of work, trips to local universities, and one-off events such as career-themed drama performances. Evaluation showed that the four objectives were achieved. These were to:

  • Increase pupils’ awareness of career/work opportunities;
  • Increase their understanding of the link between education, qualifications and work opportunities;
  • Reduce gender-specific career/role stereotypes; and,
  • Engage parents/carers in the process and so change their attitudes, perceptions and aspirations relating to their children’s education and career choices. The latter was the weakest outcome.

Pupils involved in the Pathfinder pilot also showed evidence of:

  • Improved skills, including team-work and independence;
  • Increased understanding of different sources of help/advice about making choices;
  • Increased self-confidence, especially around transition to secondary school.
  • Improved attendance and attainment, with a perception in some schools that this had improved SATs results;
  • Reduction in pupils’ concerns about transition and improved transition to secondary school.

The apparent positive outcomes of the pilot for pupils support the idea that providing career-related learning at Key Stage 2 is an optimum time, as it is when pupils are still open and responsive to new ideas, and before they begin to narrow down their options.

Primary Futures: connecting life and learning in UK education explains the value of the Primary Futures initiative (2014) which provides volunteers willing to speak in schools about their work.  Across 4,400 UK primary schools there have been 26,000 invitations to employee volunteers through the Inspiring the Future platform.  The Primary Futures paper cites and backs up with research that purposes of work related learning in primary school include:

  • Supporting literacy, numeracy and the development of ‘enterprise’ and ‘employability’ skills.
  • A resource to influence both the aspirations of young people through addressing the assumptions which shape attitudes and expectations.

Further afield, in Australia, The Case for Career Related Learning in Primary Schools (2014) found a very positive impact of a range of careers activities on primary school aspiration, engagement and achievement.  In Canada a research study The Early Years: Career Development for Young Children (2017) confirmed that career ideas started very young, as do concepts of self and work.  In the Netherlands, Huber et al looked at The Effect of Early Entrepreneurship Education: assessing the impact of a five-day entrepreneurship education programme on 2751 primary school Dutch pupils. The study found significant positive impact on the non-cognitive entrepreneurial skills of pupils such as risk-taking, creativity and self-efficacy.

Not much in the careers world is new: in 1988 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate provided Careers Education and Guidance 5 to 16, the tenth in a series of curriculum resources.  Its excellent guidance on careers education within the curriculum includes specific information on the value of and ideas for primary school work and refers to involving employers and linking careers to subject skills. The resource explains that benefits of careers work in primary schools include building resilience and improving transition skills.  30 years ago, this was mainstream guidance from government and it seems that the wheel is turning this way again.

What resources are available to support primary careers education?

Free and charged-for resources for this age group include:

  1. John Lewis World of Work resources are free, and mapped to careers learning outcomes for KS2. They provide nine lessons that can be used over a day or singly.
  2. The Career Development Institute’s learning outcomes for Careers, Employability and Enterprise Education show progression and ideas for delivery from KS2 to 5. Wales and Scotland frameworks include early years careers-related learning outcomes and progression.
  3. Primary Futures links work volunteers to primary schools and aims to broaden horizons and raise aspirations.
  4. NAHT’s A Guide for primary school leaders on working with employers and volunteers discusses some of the most common activities to help primary school children to connect between school and the wider world.
  5. Primary Schools – Enabling Enterprise provides lesson materials, staff training and skills assessment tools.
  6. Enterprise Education in Primary schools provides a wide range of enterprise activities/sites.
  7. Future Morph focuses on science and maths curriculum activities which can easily be adapted.
  8. The CBI encourages businesses to link with primary children through its paper Primary Thinking
  9. The Bonkers Book of Jobs (Complete-Careers) is targeted at an audience of 9-13-year olds to learn about careers in a fun and engaging way, similar to the style of Horrible Histories.  £7.99
  10. The Make it Real game (Prospects)is a tried and tested class game that meets 16 out of the 17 CDI learning outcomes for careers, enterprise and employability. CD £95 +VAT, map £50-£70
  11. Paws in Jobland (CASCAID) is a fun and interactive IT resource that introduces children to the world around them and the jobs that people in their community do.  £110 for a school licence
  12. First JED (Job Explorer Database) (Careersoft) is a multimedia IT resource that introduces workplaces and careers in a way that catches the imagination and supports work-related learning.  £165 for a school licence
  13. Career Mark primary is a quality award that proven to raise aspiration: membership and the assessment framework provide guidance for careers in primary schools. Charging relates to school size.

Enough research has already been undertaken to show us the fundamental importance of primary age careers education. We need to use career learning in primary school so that children explore roles, careers, and build positive self-image.  We should not wait for the government funded research as we already have enough to highlight the importance of careers work with the very young.

This report is also available to download on our Materials page. 

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