From education to employment

Disadvantaged pupils benefit most from meeting relatable work role models

Nick Chambers, Chief Executive, Education and Employers

New @Edu_Employers report shows the positive impact of meeting relatable role models on the motivation, confidence and attainment of primary-aged children 

Interventions benefit social mobility and counter the ingrained stereotypical views children often have about the jobs people do based on their gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.

As the largest study of its kind, involving 370 primary schools across 114 local authorities, and with detailed responses from around 10,000 children the Scaling Up report explores the impact of activities with role models from the workplace.

The report shows activities bring gains in attitude to school and learning, and improved attainment and engagement, with 82% of children more motivated in core subjects of maths, English and science. Activities also have positive impacts on children’s ambitions and ideas about their futures, with 88% understanding how doing well at school is helpful to them in later life.

The study was conducted as part of the Primary Futures scheme, which is run by the Education and Employers charity in partnership with the National Association of Headteachers. Set up in 2014, the free-to-use scheme enables schools to invite volunteers with different jobs to talk with pupils about what they do, helping children see the opportunities open to them.

Extending reach and impact through virtual delivery

Nearly 70,000 children took part in activities over the course of the study, including new interactive virtual sessions introduced at the start of the pandemic, thanks to the innovation and hard work of teachers.

Virtual sessions have opened-up new learning opportunities for children to meet more ‘people like them’ working in jobs they might never have known about, and, as with face-to-face sessions, to make the connection between the classroom and their futures, which is now more important than ever.

“A key part of the solution to the post-Covid education recovery and challenging stereotypes is giving children access to role models from the world of work who can inspire, motivate and help children see why education is relevant,” explains Karen Giles, Head Teacher at Barham Primary School, Wembley.

Like Giles, Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), believes such interventions have added relevance in the context of Covid-19, and is calling for the scheme to be expanded,

“Primary Futures is a perfect solution to the problem of raising post-pandemic aspirations,“ Paul says.

“This new report shows that the scheme has worked everywhere it has been deployed. Now is a perfect time to make it more widely available to pupils right across the country.”

The virtual programme means that a primary aged child living in Blackpool can meet and ask questions of a TV Producer working in visual effects based in London, or children in Cornwall can hear from someone who arranges Antarctica tours based in Scotland as part of their polar regions school topic; and a child at a rural school in Wiltshire can quiz an Experimental Archaeologist in York.

And evidence shows virtual sessions deliver, with virtual live sessions just as impactful for pupils as face-to-face sessions, and pre-recorded activities also showing positive indications of similar impact levels.

Disadvantaged pupils benefit most

The impact of activities is found to be greater for disadvantaged pupils, especially for gains in confidence, speaking, listening and aiming high/trying hard. 

Expanding the opportunities for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to meet a wide range of successful professionals helps widen their aspirations – which may be high but narrow – because often they encounter a smaller range of role models in their day-to-day lives.

Other key findings

  • Relatable role-models bring added value: the more relatable the role models the more pupils enjoy the activity and report positive influence. In parallel, virtual sessions enable children to meet a wider and more diverse range of role-models from outside their local area.
  • More is more: there is evidence of a dosage effect -– the more jobs pupils hear about or the more activities they do, the greater the impact
  • Primary Futures works at scale, is low-cost and sustainable:the established digital platform is an effective tool for running volunteer-supported learning and enables teachers to self-serve future events directly 
  • Outcomes are consistent across the country: Primary Futures activities show consistent findings across 114 local authorities in England, including both rural and urban areas

Funded by the Department for Education via the Careers & Enterprise Company’s Primary Fund, Scaling Up looks at the impact of Primary Futures’ interventions in primary schools and finds the scheme can scale quickly and low-cost. Report data includes pre and post pupil analysis, teacher and volunteer feedback, together with school case studies and sample pupil work.

The Primary Fund has come to an end, but Primary Futures continues to grow, with over 4000 schools now signed-up. The scheme has also been adopted overseas and is being rolled out by the New Zealand Government on a national level.

Scaling Up builds on findings from the report Starting Early, published earlier this year, which reveals that career aspirations of seven-year-olds are often relatively unchanged by the time they reach the age of 18, and are worryingly influenced by gender, ethnicity and social background stereotypes.

The research also shows that children are heavily influenced by the people they either meet every day or see on TV.


Nick Chambers, Chief Executive, Education and Employers

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