New research reveals parents to be the most influential factors in students’ decisions about the future.

The study "Parent power dominates education choices", conducted by ResearchBods on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Education & Skills Group, highlighted the extent of parental influence compared with other forms of career guidance. It comes just as an act of Parliament comes into play enforcing schools to provide independent careers guidance for students in years 9-11.

Louise Jaggs, the group's chair, said: "The research shows just how much sway parents have on the education choices of young people. Parents are at the heart of the decision-making process, and they in turn are heavily influenced by the views of other family and friends.

"Depending on the education and experience of the parent, this may not necessarily be a bad thing. While it may be difficult for parents assert their ability to be objective in matters regarding their child’s education, understanding and being supportive of their child’s wishes is something which might come more naturally to a parent, than to an independent authority.

"The results also raise important questions about the role of professional careers advice in the decision making process - family and individual teachers appear to have much more influence on choices than independent advisors.”

Naturally, students are far more likely to listen to someone they actually care about, who they know and trust, which, generally speaking, is usually a family member. The relationship is reciprocal, and students who recognise the advice giver, as someone who knows and cares about them in return, is most likely to hold their attention.

Key findings from the CIPR research showed that while parents rank themselves, school teachers, friends and other family members as the most influential factors in their child’s career choices, students themselves rate their parents' influence on the decision relating to FE almost as highly as parents do.

Parental guidance is something students are likely to have received throughout their lives, and hopefully educational advice will have been at the forefront from a very early age.

While parents play an important part in the motivation of their children, with so many different career options, there is no certainty that parents will be fully informed about the choices available to their children, which could be detrimental educationally and financially.

However, students can be cynical about careers advisors, who provide a relatively short amount of time to encompass all their dreams and desires for the future. Despite the clarity of their advice, careers advisors can appear less motivational and inspiring, and rather more methodical, leaving students feeling marginally enthused.

Section 29 of the Education Act 2011 states that careers guidance must a) be presented in an impartial manner, b) include information on the full range of post-16 education or training options, including Apprenticeships; and c) promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given.

This is indicative of the clear, cold, policy which seems far too general to have any personal effect, unless the 13 to 16 year old age group can demonstrate the motivation and foresight to discuss and act upon the advice administered by a complete stranger.

Only the most influential of teachers who have proven themselves, and earned the respect of their students, have the gift of being so influential to successfully advise a student on the direction of their career.

"Beyond the main findings there is a wealth of information in this research to help teachers, managers, policy makers and education communications professionals understand who and what shapes the decisions about where people want to study," said Jaggs.

"The full survey data, which we are making freely available to CIPR members, is likely to be particularly useful for communications and public relations professionals seeking to understand who drives the reputation of different education institutions, and what matters most to different groups."

A more robust PR or marketing approach, given the appropriate funding, might go some way towards persuading students to sit up and take notice of the information and advice available from independent authorities. This would take some savvy marketing skills with the time and resources to maintain a close relationship with students and to keep a keen eye on their career choices in the long term.

Daisy Atkinson

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